Endive is known by several names – Chicory, Belgium endive, Witlof or Witloof, Indiva in Italy and Endive in France. In the kitchen in England we tend to refer to it as Belgium Endive although it should probably be known simply as chicory. Left to its own devises this rather straggly plant will populate roadsides and grow to about four feet with dark green leaves and pretty blue cornflower type flowers. The root is quite chunky and is baked, ground and used as a coffee substitute.
But it is the way that it has been cultivated on the continent that realizes its value to the cook. Grown in the dark with only the tips of its leaves showing above the soil, fat ‘chicons’ develop that have a delicate, mildly bitter taste that is delicious in salads but really comes into its own when cooked.
Halving the chicons and gently pan-frying them, covered, in a little butter, a splash of water and squeeze of lemon juice (with a pinch of salt and pepper) – what the French would call étuvé – certainly does them justice, but what really works well is pairing them with something salty / sweet. So cook the chicons étuvé and when the point of a knife slips in easily, remove them and when cool enough to handle wrap in rashers of the best bacon you can find – streaky is best – and gently sauté in a clean pan. The fat from the bacon should be all you need to cook golden and crispy.
They pair well with roast chicken and duck but are also delicious as a light meal on their own.