Under the Kitchen Table
Le nord, or the north of France, is endive country. There, tradition held that farmers or their wives would bury endive roots in a bucket of rich soil and put it under the kitchen table to “force” the roots to grow. The torpedo-shaped vegetables prospered in the warmth and the dark, and the family had fresh endives for their meals, close at hand.
The commercial production of endive , which is referred to as Belgian endive because the vegetable got its start in that country, began in the north in 1930’s. Having learned that endives needed very cold weather yet constant warmth to grow, canny farmers ran hot water pipes under the soil of their fields, to give the endives both. The industry thrived, becoming a major financial player in the region which it remains today.
Meanwhile, botanists discovered that endives also flourished in hydroponic situations which allowed growers all over the country to produce the vegetable leaving the growers who depend on soil scratching their heads. How could they compete with a flood of less expensive, arguably less flavorful, endives?
They’ve managed thank goodness, and we have endive from the north throughout the winter months. A perfect endive is neither too pointy nor too blunt; the majority of it must be an almost blueish pure white, with either yellow or red ruffles at the edge of the outer leaves, depending on the variety. If the endive is exposed to light its leaves turn green at the edges, considered a quality defect, so they are always packed in boxes lined with blue paper that keeps out the light and also keeps their natural and pleasant bitterness from becoming too pronounced. It can make finding them at the market a challenge, but if you want endive and it is winter, you know they are there, hiding away.
The effort of cultivating endives is considerable, and so are the rewards, at least to the consumer. An endive de terre is a thing of beauty with many culinary possibilities. Crisp and juicy with their satisfyingly delicate bitterness, it is as good in a salad as in a gratin, or in this light and simple soup. It keeps very well and when you’re in the mood for a warm and comforting soup, turn to the endive and use our recipe! It takes just moments to make, it warms, it nourishes, and it’s something just a little bit different!
BELGIAN ENDIVE AND CHICKEN SOUP - SOUPE A L’ENDIVE ET BOUILLON DE POULE
- 1-1/2 pounds;750g Belgian endive
- 2 tablespoons;60g unsalted butter
- 1 large, 7 ounce;210g onion onion, onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 quarts; 2 liters Chicken Stock (see recipe)
- 4 medium 6 ounces;180g each carrots, peeled and grated
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Crème Fraîche – optional for serving
- Strip away any outside endive leaves that are discolored. Trim the stem, then slice the endive crosswise into ¼-inch (1/2 cm) rounds.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock to the onions, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots. Cook, covered, until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the endive and cook until it is just tender, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the thyme and the chicken if desired. Stir and adjust the seasoning. Continue heating until the soup is steaming. Serve with crème fraiche alongside, for dolloping into the soup, if desired.