Poor Endives, they are an overlooked and comparatively unloved veggie in the UK: yet most people have been happily chomping through endives in supermarket salad packs for years! They are more pest-resistant than lettuce and really well adapted to the low light levels and dampness of our autumns and winters. And, unlike lettuces, on the days you just don’t fancy salad cook some endive instead. Most varieties tolerate light frost, pretty happy with just a cloche to shelter them but in colder weather they are happier grown in a greenhouse (no heating required) or a cold frame that can be protected in harsh weather. Perhaps people are put off by the thought of blanching them, but this is not essential for any of our varieties.
There are, traditionally, two main types: Curled (sometimes called Frisée) and Broad-leaved (aka Batavian, scarole or escarole). Just so it is not crystal clear some of the more recent varieties are somewhere in-between so it always best to be guided by the information on the packets…
So we have three choices for you to try out.
First up is Catalogna Garnet Stem: this variety can develop bright red stems to provide a wonderful colour contrast to the dark green leaves for a tasty, vibrant addition to your salads. Grow this variety from early spring or in the autumn. For winter use this variety is best in a greenhouse (or a cold frame).
Cornet De Bordeaux is one of the hardiest varieties, it has a lovely tangy flavour too. In the early autumn this will be happy with cloches but as the temperature dips into the winter it too is happier with more protection.
Finally there is frisée Panaclieri which can be sown all year round for cut-&-come-again use. This is a self-blanching variety with a naturally creamy centre (the other two varieties do not need blanching either).
Now for the cooking part… braise (bake in liquid in the oven), boil or steam (I much prefer steaming to boiling) & sautée (a quick fry in a hot pan) are the best cooking methods.
So I apologise in advance as I am a ‘throw it in the pot’ kind of cook and I haven’t measured the ingredients for these two recipes so it is a try it for yourself and adjust quantities.
First cook your bacon (can be rough chopped or cut into strips) until crispy & put to one side. Then boil or steam your shredded endive (if its Panaclieri just take the leaves off the main stem) for about 3 minutes until wilted. Pop this in the pan with the bacon and add some fine chopped onion, diced pepper, cider vinegar and season, heat through & serve. You can precook the other veggies with the bacon if you prefer them softer.
I braised endives underneath the joint last weekend – I made a ‘nest’ of chopped veggies – endive, carrots, swede and a red onion (doesn’t have to be red) I added about a half pint of veg stock, put the joint on top, sealed it with tin foil and then you just serve it up when the joint is ready! If your nest is too big to serve all at once you can blitz the remainder adding a little more stock if needed and you have soup for lunch the next day.