Elegant looks and sophisticated flavors make this surprisingly simple first course a fun way to kick off dinner. Recipe below.
I often say that inspiration for a recipe can come from just about anywhere. But two ideas from a single source is a rare piece of luck. The same informal dinner party that sparked last week’s dessert of sautéed pears with thyme and ice cream was also responsible for this easy, elegant starter.
That meal had started with my never fail endive salad with blue cheese and pecans. As many times as I’ve served this shared dish, no one has ever just taken a single polite bite and then leaned back to let others finish it. To a person, every diner has remained, shall we say, engaged until the plate was clean. Finally, I decided it was time to find another way to use Belgian endive.
Belgian endive, called chicory in England and simply endive in France, is also nicknamed white gold. Its pleasantly tangy, slightly bitter flavor makes it popular both for salads and cooked dishes (or in this case, a lightly cooked salad). The white and pale yellow (or sometimes yellow green) coloring comes from its two-step cultivation. Chicory is first grown outdoors, then harvested for its roots. Next, the roots and a bit of the tops are planted in sand or sandy soil indoors in a cool, dark place until the tight, torpedo-shaped heads form. If you’d like to know more, Kitchen Gardeners International has an informative piece on growing your own Belgian endive.
As a starter, Sautéed Belgian Endive with Bacon and Goat Cheese has a lot going for it. First, there’s bacon. No matter how much bacon has jumped the shark and we’re all so over the whole bacon thing, we really aren’t. Black will always trump whatever latest color is proclaimed “the new black.” And bacon will always be bacon.
Next, there’s the endive itself. Its mild bitterness plays nicely with the other flavors, even as it holds its own, bringing plenty to the party. Its distinctive shape gives the dish a put together, architectural look that belies the simplicity of making it. The slight charring from sautéing elevates it beyond a simple salad.
And finally, the goat cheese and a splash of vinegar bring everything together, each adding their own notes. Blue cheese would also work well, although differently, as would any number of cheeses (although nothing in the cheddar direction, I think).
One last note before the recipe. Fellow blogger Kitchen Riffs is often commenting here, sharing insightful ideas about food. If you’re looking for another way to use beautiful, deliciously bitter Belgian endive, try his Roast Endive recipe.
Sautéed Belgian Endive with Bacon and Goat Cheese
Serves 2 as a starter (can be doubled, etcetera)
2 strips of bacon, cut crosswise into matchsticks
2 heads Belgian endive
white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
about 2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled (see Kitchen Notes)
This comes together very quickly, so have all your ingredients prepared before starting. Trim the very base from the endive heads and discard any brownish outer leaves. Slice in half lengthwise with a very sharp knife. Place bacon matchsticks in a cold, dry nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Reduce heat to medium-low and place endive head halves in skillet, cut side down. Swirl to coat cut sides with bacon fat and cook undisturbed until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Gently turn and cook on the other side for about 2 minutes.
Divide cooked endive between two serving plates. Drizzle about 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar on each serving and top with bacon and goat cheese. Serve warm. Pass the salt at the table, if needed (I used reduced-sodium bacon, so salt was called for).
Crumble your own cheese, please. You can buy pre-crumbled goat cheese, but don’t. It suffers from the same flaw as pre-grated Parmesan cheese—it is dry and flavorless. Also, make sure the cheese is nice and cold; it will crumble better that way.