Chicory baked in a cheese and ham sauce is a big favourite in this part of the world. From January until the end of April the markets are full of farmers selling witloof, as it is called in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. “Grown in the soil not in water” is one of their key cries. This traditional dish is perfect with mashed potatoes and either red cabbage or just a simple green salad. This recipe comes straight from Jaak – my father-in-law whose grandfather was a chicory farmer. So, I’m guessing this is a fairly old recipe. Removing the heart of the chicory and blanching definitely removes a lot of the bitterness and anti-nutrients naturally present in the plant. The end result is a subtly flavoured winter vegetable that works really well with the more robust flavours of a thick cheese and ham sauce.
One whole chicory/person.
One slice of ham/person.
Milk, butter, arrow root and cheese for the cheese sauce.
Salt & pepper.
Begin by rinsing the chicory and removing any discoloured outer leaves. Remove the core of the chicory – the source of much unpleasant bitterness.
Bring a pan of salt water to the boil, place the cored chicory in the pan and leave to boil for 10 – 15 minutes. Rice the chicory in cold water and leave to stand for around 2 hours – this allows the excess amount of water gathered in between the leaves to drain away.
In the meantime cut the crust off 3-4 slices of stale bread, cut into cubes and place in a blender to pulse into breadcrumbs together with some salt, pepper, chopped parsley and thyme.
When the chicory has stood for long enough wrap each one in a slice of ham and place in a baking dish.
Prepare the cheese sauce and pour over the ham and chicory. Sprinkle the home-made breadcrumbs over the dish and add 4-5 dollops of butter over the breadcrumbs.
Bake in the over for approx. 45 minutes – enjoy!