First a little clarification about endive (also called Belgian or French endive), since it is called very different in different parts of the world. In the Netherlands endive is called witlof, while we use the word endive (andijvie) for what they in some part of the world call escarole, but escarole is sometimes called endive too in some other parts of the world. The endive I mean now are the small heads of cream-colored, slightly bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up; after harvesting it has to be kept dark as well to prevent it from turning green and very unpalatable bitter. The harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head should be cut out before cooking, because it is very hard and unpalatable bitter.
Endive was developed in Belgium, but nowadays is grown on large scale in the Netherlands too. It stands on place 3 in the list of most eaten veggies in the Netherlands, so it is very popular. The favourite things to do with it are making a salad and making endive gratin: heads of endive rolled in ham and cheese placed in a baking tray and covered with mashed potatoes. Some people make this gratin without the potato purée, and don’t use the cheese in the rolls but make a cheese sauce with it to pour over the endive-ham rolls, sprinkle everything with cheese and then grill it, but the variation with potato is how I ate it when I grew up, so I stick to that. Originally, you cook the endive, but that makes it quite mushy and watery, therefore I grill it. It keeps its texture better, and because of caramelisation the endive gets less bitter as well.
Endive gratin (serves 4)
4 large heads of endive (or 8 small ones)
8 slices of ham
8 slices of cheese
1 kg potatoes suitable for mash (I like to use slightly floury potatoes)
100 ml milk
knob of butter
salt and pepper
optional: some dried breadcrumbs
Remove the ugly outer leaves of the endive and the stem, slice the head in half and remove the core. Place the slices of cheese on the slices of ham and lay them out on your workspace.
Peel the potatoes and cook them in salted water. Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan. Place the halved heads of endive in it and fry until slightly caramelized, then turn them over and do the same on the other side. Preheat the oven/grill.
Mash the potatoes and make a nice purée with the milk, butter, salt and pepper.
Place a halved head of endive on each slice of ham/cheese (or 2 halves, if you used small heads), then roll. Place all the rolls in a baking tray, then scoop the purée on top. I like to make a nice ridge pattern with a fork and sprinkle some dried breadcrumbs over it to make the top extra crispy. Place under the grill for a crispy layer on top, or cook for a bit longer in the oven if you like your endive a bit more cooked.