Endives were not among the vegetables we knew in middle America back when I was growing up. I first encountered endives as a student during my junior year at the University of Grenoble in France. They were an all-too-frequent occurrence at the student cafeteria. I was not a fan. That has changed now that I live in France and have experienced different, tastier versions of endive preparation. Endives may be the national vegetable of Belgium, but the French love them. My brother David, a horticulture agent in Kentucky, is about to teach a class on The Edible French Garden. Endives are a must. This recipe is especially for David , a popular endive dish which can be served in small portions as an entree or as a main course for four.8 Belgian endives
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
8 thin slices cooked ham (about 1/4 lb)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
Trim endives and in a large saucepan cover with water. Add lemon juice and salt to taste and simmer, covered , until endives are tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer endives with tongs to a colander and drain, bottom ends up. When endives are cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess water and halve lengthwise. Drain endives, cut sides down, on paper towels 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. and butter a 2-quart flameproof shallow baking dish. Halve ham slices and wrap each endive half in a piece of ham. Arrange endives as wrapped, cut sides down, in layers in baking dish.
In a heavy saucepan melt butter over moderately low heat. Add flour and cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes. Add milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Remove pan from heat and add 1 cup Gruyere, whisking until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
Pour sauce evenly over endives and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs and remaining 1/2 cup Gruyere. Bake gratin in upper third of oven until edges are bubbling, 5 to 10 minutes. Change oven setting to broil and broil gratin about 2 inches from heat until top is golden, about 2 minutes. Serves four as main course.
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