Endive: An interesting, versatile vegetable

(And in case you wondered: it's pronounced ON-DEEV)
March 1, 2012 6:19 pm
  • The sturdy leaves, or "spears," of Belgian endive make great edible cups for dips and other fillings.
    The sturdy leaves, or "spears," of Belgian endive make great edible cups for dips and other fillings.
  • Amparo Garcia, right, packs up red endive at the California Vegetable Specialties indoor farm. Belgian endive sprouts on the roots of chicory plants that are kept in the dark. Red endive is a cross between chicory and treviso, which also is in the chicory family.
    Amparo Garcia, right, packs up red endive at the California Vegetable Specialties indoor farm. Belgian endive sprouts on the roots of chicory plants that are kept in the dark. Red endive is a cross between chicory and treviso, which also is in the chicory family.
  • An endive forcing room, or "endive cave," at California Vegetable
Specialties.
    An endive forcing room, or "endive cave," at California Vegetable Specialties.
  • An employee of Landgut Pretschen wears a head light as she checks the chicory production. Also called Belgian endive the plant is cultivated in underground or indoors to avoid the leaves turning green and opening up from the sunlight.
    An employee of Landgut Pretschen wears a head light as she checks the chicory production. Also called Belgian endive the plant is cultivated in underground or indoors to avoid the leaves turning green and opening up from the sunlight.
  • An employee of a market gardening company checks some chicory plants.
    An employee of a market gardening company checks some chicory plants.
  • Chicory.
    Chicory.
  • Endive and Beet Salad
    Endive and Beet Salad
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This winter, I've discovered endive -- how to cook with it, how it grows, and how to pronounce it.

I'd eaten this not-green vegetable several times, but I'd never cooked with it and didn't know much about it, including how to properly say it.

If that's you, you might want to get your hands on some, because it's very tasty, extremely versatile and one of the relatively few vegetables that's in season.

That's because it's always in season, according to the only U.S. grower, California Vegetable Specialties.

Buying, storing and cooking with endive

California Vegetable Specialties suggests looking for smooth, plump, crisp, firm heads that are as pale as possible. At home, wrap them in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag; it will keep that way in your fridge's vegetable drawer for 10 to 14 days.

You don't need to wash it, because, "The leaves have never been exposed to soil, and are harvested and packed under sanitary conditions. Just remove any torn or damaged leaves, trim the bottom, and you're ready to go!"

The core is slightly more bitter than the rest of the endive, so, if you're using it raw, you might want to slice the endive in half lengthwise and remove the core. No need to do that when you're cooking it, as the core tends to turn sweeter.

According to the primer it provides on endive.com -- of course; you think there wouldn't be an endive.com? -- you say on-deev for the tighty packed, conically headed, pale white one, which is commonly called Belgian endive. California Vegetable Specialties calls its version Belgian-style endive, and in addition to the white grows a red one, which has reddish tips.

You say en-dive for their curly-headed, more lettuce-like cousin, which is green, because it grows in light.

Belgian endive, on the other hand, actually sprouts in the dark, during its second growth -- a fascinating process that we'll shine light on later.

Both endives belong to a group of vegetables known as chicory (genus Cichorium), which include radicchio, escarole and frisee, as well as several varieties better known in Europe than here such as treviso. The plant on which Belgian endive grows actually is chicory; red endive is a cross of chicory and treviso.

All tend to be a bit bitter, but that's part of their appeal.

You've probably at least seen the conical endive, the leaves of which retain their shape so well they're often used as pretty and edible cups to hold other salad fixings or dips.

But if you saw it as it grows, you'd be surprised that a single head is a small part of the chicory plant, which is mostly one big root.

As California Vegetable Specialties explains, those chicory roots are topped with longer, frillier leaves as they grow from seed in the spring. But during the harvest in the fall, those leaves are removed and discarded and the roots are dug up. The roots are packed and kept dormant in cold storage (29 degrees, for up to nine months) until they are needed for the second growth, which occurs on growing trays in dark, humid, hydroponically fed "forcing rooms." That is, the plant is forced to "bloom" into these small heads, which when mature after 21 to 28 days, are picked, packed and shipped. The dark "endive caves" are like the buildings in which mushrooms are grown.

Trim the bases of the endives and pull the leaves apart over a serving platter. Quickly pick the basil leaves and scatter the small ones all over the salad. Put a small frying pan on a medium to low heat.

Put a grill pan on high heat. Trim the endives and halve each one lengthways. Lay them flat side down on the grill pan. Turn every few minutes and take the pan off the heat once nicely charred on both sides.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a heavy, flat pan on medium heat. Add the oil, butter, sugar and a pinch of salt, and allow to heat up.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a heavy, flat pan on medium heat. Add the oil, butter, sugar and a pinch of salt, and allow to heat up.

Bring about 1 cup water to a boil.

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.
First Published 2012-03-01 12:37:53

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