La Chatte Gitane (or The Gypsy Cat) was the name we chose for our cottage in France at the time. We chose it while on the road, moving house the first time round, from Ireland to France with 2 dogs and 7 cats in the car.
This blog began its insignificant life as a recipe book for friends and family who would ask me repeatedly for a recipe of this, that and the other.
Since then it has taken many different directions, like we did and like gypsies tend to do. Sometimes making a U-turn and revisiting familiar roads and taking a break when necessary.
You'll find recipes here, but also musings about the places we've called home, the gardens that we've established, not always successfully, the homes we've improved and the environments we've lived in. Currently, after yet another stint in Ireland, we're back in France @ Le Mas d'Ayen

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Witloof from Belgium

Although, the French claim it as their own, I am a firm believer that Chicory With Ham and Cheese was, still is and always will be a Belgian recipe.

Legends and facts :
1830 Schaarbeek (nr Brussels). A man called Jan Brammens, who was one of the many farmers, who had to escape from the violence in Brabant, before the independence of Belgium. Before he left, he quickly cut some chicory roots for his surrogate coffee. He threw them in his cellar and to prevent them from drying out he covered them with some soil. When he arrives back at his farm he discovers that the roots had sprouted many conical blanched hearts, which to his mind tasted very nice indeed.

A more accepted version however is about Franciscus Bresier, who worked at the Royal Gardens 'Botanieken Hof' or Kruidtuin'. Planning to grow loose leaved chicory, he kept the roots stacked one closely next to the other in the mushroom cellars and covered them with composted down horse manure. He also watered them regularly to give the plants a head start for when he wanted to plant them out.
To his amazement he noticed the blanched hearts that looked like Roman lettuce appearing on the roots.
During the next two years he did a trial with roots , covered with soil and roots that he left uncovered. Again, the covered roots produced this lovely vegetable.
The 1834-1835 winter is to be the official year that chicory or 'witloof', as we know it now, was discovered.
The way the chicory got out and famous is still a mystery, but a fact is that the first harvest made it's way to the market in Brussels in 1846. From 1840 till then the growing of chicory was a public secret that more and more farmers tended to cultivate. The cultivation then spread to the rest of Flanders, to the Netherlands and France.

Ingredients (for 2)

4 hearts of chicory (or more if you're gluttonous like me)
20 gr butter
100 ml water
1/2 organic stock cube
black pepper

4 slices of good quality cooked ham

for the cheese sauce (and if you like more sauce you can always multiply the amount)
50 gr butter
50 gr flour
300 ml milk
100 grated, mature cheese (cheddar, Gruyère or Gouda)

Clean-up the chicory by slicing off the brown bottom end and crossing in about 1 to 2 cm deep. Remove damaged leaves (if any).
Melt the butter in a pan and sautée the chicory hearts, add stock cube, pepper and nutmeg. Add the water and let it simmer (covered) until the cores are tender. The chicory shouldn't burn, so add extra water if necessary.
Drain in a colander, but keep the liquid.

Meanwhile make your cheese sauce.
Melt the butter in the pan and mix in the flour. Add the milk and vegetable liquid, bring to the boil, while stirring all the time. The sauce should be cooked through for at least a minute to prevent the floury aftertaste.
Take off the heat and stir in half of the cheese.

Roll each heart of chicory in a slice of ham and arrange in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.

Put in a preheated oven 180 ° C or under the grill till the cheese on top has become golden brown.

Serve hot with mashed potatoes or as I do, with rice (that way I can devour at least three)

We often eat chicory just sautéed (step1) with potatoes and meat. When I serve it to people who haven't tried this glorious veg before I always add a tbsp sugar while sautéeing, if not the bitterness (although, only slightly so) might be a shock to some.
I know the 'very' original recipes say to boil the chicory in water for 45 minutes, but I find the intensity of flavours are more profound when sautéed, that's why I've prepared them like this most of my 'culinary' life.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Patricia

    Thanks for your comments, very flattered!

    I love chicory. 2 favourite ways for me is a simple braise in orange juice and mustard (I've a recipe that uses fennel on the Blog that can be replaced with chicory) or boiled, drained, sprinkled with sugard and caramelised in butter and oil, yum yum!



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