what to do with an endive? i usually encounter them in the grocery store, looking wan and sad in a small pile along side other less popular vegetables. but i've always liked the look of endive - smooth and sleek, like little white torpedoes with elegant green tips.
endive (a member of the daisy family, i just learned), have only really functioned for me heretofore as edible cups for dips and appetizers. and who doesn't love an edible cup? cones (for ice cream), taco shells, wontons - even tomatoes and cucumbers hollowed out can become edible vessels for dips and salads. but is this all the lonely endive is good for? relegated to a life of bland transport?
in the february issue of food & wine magazine, my eye was caught by a simple and genius mode of endive preparation, conceived by tory miller, chef at l'etoile in madison, wisconsin. the article itself was totally adorable, about how as a way to bust the seasonal boredom, chef miller and his restaurant staff play broom hockey and then eat amazing wintry meals together. the meal highlighted in f&w had a "winter white" theme. when i saw the technique for braising endives in gin and orange juice, i wrote right on the magazine page in an excited scrawl "want to try this!" and stalked my neighborhood grocery stores until i found endives that seemed acceptable. perhaps a bit over zealous, i also splurged on high quality, local gin and organic fresh oranges.
there are very few dishes that i ever have, or ever will, refer to as "gorgeous." or "sensuous" or "voluptuous," or any of those over wrought food writer words that seem to convey more the party in your pants than the one in your mouth. and so, i struggle to find a way to describe this vegetable side that doesn't rely on those silly tropes. i will just say, before sharing this gem of a recipe: while eating the finished dish, i sat alone in my kitchen, uncontrollably exclaiming out loud to the universe, "holy shit, this is so GOOD!" it may be one of the best things i've ever made. the caramelized, tender leaves of the endives, dry juniper berry zing of the gin, and tart sugars of the orange juice are fast friends. however, the finishing sauce is what really takes this to a gourmet level, and is a sophisticated, awesome technique i am sure i'll employ a thousand times to come.
Gin & Juice Braised Endives
adapted from the February 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine
~serves two as a side, or one hungry person who doesn't want to share~
~takes 30 minutes~
1 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 belgian endives, halved lenghtwise
1/4 cup good quality gin
salt & pepper
1/2 cup (maybe a little less) fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons margarine or butter
2 tablespoons agave nectar, brown rice syrup, or honey
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)
balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
- heat the oil in a large, non-stick or well seasoned cast iron skillet. add the endive halves, cut side down, and cook over medium heat until nicely browned, about 5 minutes.
- slowly pour the gin over the pan and let cook until reduced by half. flip the endives over, season with salt and pepper (less salt if you plan on using margarine later), and add the OJ.
- lower the heat and cover. cook for about 15 minutes, turning the endives back over one time, about 10 minutes through.
- once the endives are tender, transfer them to a plate using a slotted spoon. add the margarine or butter to the remaining liquid in the plan, then swirl in the agave or honey. bring this radiant sauce to a quick boil, stirring gently with a spatula. when it's nice and syrupy (only about 2 minutes are needed), season with more pepper. this makes your kitchen smell amazing.
- pour the sauce over the endives, and garnish with the scallion and pepitas. i didn't have either of these things on hand, and trust me, it did not matter one bit.
- drizzle the plate with a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, and serve.
for even further decadence, enjoy this dish with an ice cold gin martini
try to take your time with this heady, wonderful dish. your impulse will be to inhale them all at once in a fit of pleasure, but it's really worth it to savor each small bite, letting all the distinct but harmonious flavors and textures dance through your mind.