Most recent in the “I never stop learning” chapters of my life was getting schooled on the subtleties of endive. As it turns out, that which I know as “endive” is technically “Belgian endive”. Confusingly, “endive” can refer to what most people call “frisée” (the curly-leafed, spindly salad green) and also “escarole.” All of them—Belgian endive, frisée, escarole (also known as “broad-leaf endive”)—are in the chicory family, but are the leaves of chicory plants, not the roots (which is the chicory we might think of as a coffee substitute). All of this newfound endive knowledge was conferred onto me by a very zealous farmstand helper who must have had a lot of coffee to start off his day (caffeinated, not the chicory kind). I almost wished I hadn’t asked about the word “Belgian” on the sign. But the endive zealot finished his polemic with a fact that left me walking away feeling as if I had tucked a few treasures in my basket: there are only one or two commercial producers of Belgian endive in the U.S., so even in the grocery store, it is very rare to find a Belgian-style endive grown in the States. Notoriously persnickety to grow (they have to be grown completely in the dark and/or submerged in soil, and the leaves have to be cut back to allow the stem to form the characteristic long, cabbage-like bud), if you find Belgian-style endives at your famer’s market, it’s almost certainly because the farmer has been experimenting and taken considerable time and effort to produce them. To be honest, I think I’ve only had (Belgian) endive a few times in my life, and it was never particularly memorable. Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors book, which holds the answers to many a how-do-I-cook-this? question, has a recipe for endive and gruyère toasts. This recipe is a twist on that flavor combination, trading out bread for a pizza-ish crust, and topping everything off with arugula and a drizzle of olive oil.A brief saute in just a smidge of butter takes the characteristic, chicory-bitter edge off of the endive, and pairing it with nutty, funky gruyère brings out similar earthiness in the endive. With some peppery greens for contrast, you have an amazing—and unusual—appetizer for a few or dinner for two. The next time you see Belgian endive at a farmer’s market, snap it up, take it home, and prepare this. Share it with a friend—after all, you’re now armed with some endive factoids that make the perfect conversation starter.
Endive & gruyère flatbread
Adapted liberally from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors
You will need
- Your favorite pizza dough, enough for one crust (the one here was leavened with yeast indigenous to DC! But with conventional yeast, I’m partial to Deb’s pizza dough recipe)
1-2 tablespoons butter
2-3 plump Belgian endives
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 wedge of lemon (optional)
I cup grated gruyere cheese (this would also work with a similarly textured cheese, like fontina)
3/4 cup arugula (or other greens, like spinach)
Olive oil for drizzling
- Roll out pizza dough onto parchment paper or a well-floured pizza peel. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thoroughly wash the endives in cool water. slice off the stem stump, and then quarter them lengthwise. Slice each quarter into thinner ribbons, 1/2-inch to 1/4-inch wide.
Heat the butter in a skillet on medium heat. When the butter is foamy, add the endives, stirring to coat. Add the salt. Saute, 5-7 minutes, until the endives begin to soften but not brown. When cooked, endives can discolor a bit, so if you want, sprinkle a bit of lemon juice over the endives at this point to prevent discoloration.
Once the oven is preheated, transfer your pizza crust to a baking sheet, pizza pan, or baking stone, and pre-bake for 5 minutes, just enough for the dough to begin to set. Remove from the oven, and spread the sauteed endives on the crust. Sprinkle the gruyere cheese over the endives. Bake another 10-15 minutes, until cheese is bubbling, the pizza crust is golden, and the endives are a bit browned on the edges.
Scatter the arugula over the hot flatbread. Drizzle with a little good olive oil, and serve.