I love it when a meal comes together.

Beautifully caramelised chicory to bring out the sweetness

Beautifully caramelised chicory to bring out the sweetness

I had a Dutch friend over this weekend and she was somewhat bemused to find I had chicory in the fridge. Apparently she has never met a Brit who would ever have purchased such a thing as it is generally perceived as very bitter. I grew up with my Mum liking chicory so I guess I was just more used to the flavour or something. Well happily this unloved plant came into its own at home tonight.

otto endive

I really fancied trying to make something a bit different and tasty for dinner and the focus on the bitter stuff brought to mind a favourite recipe of mine. It is Ottolenghi’s Caramelised Endive with Serrano Ham.

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I kind of adapted it tonight so that I could use up a few bits that were already on hand. But the result was as good as ever. I was particularly pleased to be able to slice up some more of that wonderful Cotswold Curer pancetta which I bought a few weeks ago at Stroud market. It amazes me how inspired I can be by something so simple, but honestly, this stuff is just wonderful and that small piece goes a long long way. Much nicer than the Serrano ham in the recipe. I also managed to use up some panko breadcrumbs which were loitering in the cupboard (I know – it says a lot that my cupboards have that loitering) and grana padano instead of parmesan…but the result ladies and gentlemen…..sitting alongside a nicely dressed green salad …. just yum.

It's possibly a bit well done for some, but I like well toasted!

It’s possibly a bit well done for some, but I like well toasted!

Caramelised endive with Serrano ham

Extract from Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Published in 2008 by Ebury Press

Serves 6

Nir Feller, who’s got the most infectious zeal for food, helped develop this dish when running our kitchen in Notting Hill. It’s ideal for preparing ahead of time. Have it ready in the baking dish and put it in the oven when you need it. It makes an impressive starter for a cold winter night.

Ingredients

6 endives, cut in half lengthways
40g unsalted butter
4tsp caster sugar
50g sourdough breadcrumbs
70g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2tbsp thyme leaves
120ml whipping cream
12 thin slices of Serrano ham
Olive oil for drizzling
2tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Coarse sea salt and black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/gas mark 6. Begin by caramelising the endive. You will probably have to do it in 2-3 batches, depending on the size of your largest frying pan; the endive halves need to fit lying flat without overlapping. If working in two batches, put half the butter and half the sugar in the pan and place over a high heat.

Stir to mix. As soon as the butter starts to bubble, place six endive halves facing down in the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes, until golden. You might need to press them down slightly. Don’t worry if the butter goes slightly brown. Remove and repeat the process with the remaining butter, sugar and six endive halves.

Line a tray with baking parchment and arrange the endives on it, caramelised side up. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Mix the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, thyme, cream, a quarter of a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Spoon this mixture over the endives and top each one with a slice of ham. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the endives feel soft when poked with a knife. Serve hot or warm, drizzled with some olive oil and sprinkled with the chopped parsley, if using.

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