Endives

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Endive is chicory and chicory is endive (unless it is radicchio), although they are not the same. How can this be? The confusion is purely nomenclatural, or you could blame it on the Belgians. Around 1850, plantsmen at the Brussels botanic garden decided to force the roots of Cichorium intybus, up till then mainly exploited as a coffee ersatz, to grow leaves indoors in darkness. Buried under soil, to encourage a tight head of leaves, the plant complied and the leaves themselves came up out of the ground all pale and mildly bitter.

The same plant, but with red and white leaves, is called radicchio. It is normally seen in a round, tightly headed form. Another variety of radicchio, called Treviso, has long, loosely headed leaves with an underhue of green.

The center of production in Europe continues to be Brussels, where French-speaking Walloons call this unnatural sprout chicon and Flemings refer to it as witloof, or white leaf. They order things differently in France, of course, where the same vegetable is endive or chicorée. In the U.K., markets sell it as Belgian or Brussels chicory. In the U.S., we have settled for Belgian endive.

You’ll know it when you see it. Eating it raw with Gorgonzola and walnuts is my favorite way to serve it. Braising in a moderate oven in a greased gratin pan with a little chicken stock is a simple and excellent way to go if you want to cook it. The recipe below is a classic Belgian dish, one you will find almost anywhere in Brussels.

While the witloof bakes, you’ll have time to make a chicory salad from true endive (Cichorium endivia), either from the curly type (aka curly chicory or frisée) or from the broad-leaf variety (aka escarole). Should you wish to cook this plant, either variety can be sautéed or steamed until wilted. The final recipe is a variation on a basic Italian soup combo, escarole and starch (rice, pasta, or beans).

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