Endives au gratin is a creamy casserole consisting of crisp Belgian endives, wrapped in ham and covered in a creamy white sauce with Gruyere cheese. Endive is a lettuce in the chicory family that is crisp with nutty flavors when baked.
Fun little fact about me: I have a Master’s degree in agronomy. Specifically, I studied lettuce production in the Salinas Valley (in California). If that sounds boring to you, I can assure you that you haven’t driven down the road and seen alternating rows of bright green, vibrant purple, and dark green lettuce growing together side-by-side in neat little rows. The mix of salad in your salad bag is literally planted as a mix–as the rows are harvested next to each other, they are washed, mixed and bagged together.
It’s a plant rainbow in the field, as often a single row of green lettuce is planted next to a single row of purple oak leaf lettuce or radicchio, followed by a light green butter lettuce plant, repeat for acres and acres until the sun sets in the Pacific Ocean. I wish I could share a video with you of what it looks like when you drive 55mph and the colorful rows appear to be dancing.
What are endives?
However, endives are not lettuce! You find them in the same section of the grocery store as lettuce, but they are grown very differently. Endives are grown much like mushrooms: in the dark and in very cool temperatures, nowhere near the sunny lettuce fields kissed my ocean breezes
Endive is a slightly bitter chicory lettuce that grows in the dark during the winter. Well, technically, first the plant is grown in the light to develop its roots, and then the roots are transplanted into sand and allowed to grow in the dark. The lack of light creates the perfectly white leaves that you see on most of the plant. Then, at the end of the growing process, it is exposed briefly to light to develop chlorophyll (color) at the tips of the leaves.
If you think you’ve never had a chicory lettuce, I believe you’re wrong–if you have ever grabbed a bag of mixed greens, especially ‘mixed spring greens’. In a bag of mixed greens, you commonly encounter Frisée, which is a curly chicory lettuce that appears in almost every mix. The extra crunch and slight bitterness brings much to a salad, and for these same reasons, we like to make endives au gratin with chicories.
Endives can have a slight bitterness when raw, but when cooked, they are mellow, tender and slightly sweet and nutty. Since the flavor combination of ham and cheese is so iconic, especially in a ham and cheese quiche, let’s apply it to endives. Specifically, let’s wrap slices of Black Forest ham around endives, and cover them with a Gruyere cheese sauce to make endives au gratin.
How to pick an endive:
If you need a little help choosing endive at the store, look for bright white, firm leaves that still have a bit of hair left on them. See the fuzz on the endive below? That’s a good thing. It’s a sign of freshness. Actually, all lettuce has tiny hairs on the leaves, but you will only see it if the lettuce is very fresh.
Ok, now that we have been schooled on endives, it’s time to make endives au gratin by wrapping them in ham and covering them with white sauce and nutty Gruyere cheese! If ham and cheese are some of your favorite flavors too, then try my ham and cheese puff pastry squares.
- endives: You need 6 endives, and you can buy a mix of yellow or purple endives, your choice! The best place to find them is at the farmer’s market in the winters, as many growers use them to supplement income, since they grow in the dark. However, well-stocked grocery stores may carry them from Fall to late Spring.
- ham slices: You need 6 slices of deli ham, preferably Black Forest ham. Don’t use the paper thin ham from the lunch meat section, as it will probably tear when you try to wrap up the endives. Have the deli cut you slices about 1/8″ thick.
- all-purpose flour
- milk: Whole milk is best, since we’re making a cream sauce, or Béchamel sauce.
- Gruyere cheese: Gruyere is a fancy French cheese that you can substitute with Swiss cheese, if you prefer.
- salt and pepper
How to make endives au gratin:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Wrap each endive in a piece of ham, and place in an oven-safe baking dish.
- Next, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Then, slowly pour in the milk. Let the mixture come to a gentle simmer to thicken. When it’s ready, it will coat the back of a spoon. Pour it over the awaiting endives in the dish.
- Sprinkle the grated Gruyere cheese on top, and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
- Serve immediately with a light green salad on the side.
Look at these baby lettuce taking a nap in their ham blankets while bathing in bubbly cheese. Some days, I wish I was an endive.
Other bakes you may love:
- 6 Endives, a mix of yellow and purple tipped, washed and dried
- 6 slices deli ham, preferrably Black Forest
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup shredded Gruyere Cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Wrap each endive in a piece of ham, and place them in an 8” square baking dish. It’s over if they touch in the dish, but don’t stack them.
Next, in a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute while whisking. Next, whisk in the milk slowly. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. It will have the consistency of gravy.
Pour the white sauce over the endive, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately.
endives: You need 6 endives, and you can buy a mix of yellow or purple endives, your choice! The best place to find them is at the farmer's market in the winters, as many growers use them to supplement income, since they grow in the dark. However, well-stocked grocery stores may carry them from Fall to late Spring.
ham slices: You need 6 slices of deli ham, preferably Black Forest ham. Don't use the paper thin ham from the lunch meat section, as it will probably tear when you try to wrap up the endives. Have the deli cut you slices about 1/8" thick.
milk: Whole milk is best, since we're making a cream sauce, or Béchamel sauce.
Gruyere cheese: Gruyere is a fancy French cheese that you can substitute with Swiss cheese, if you prefer.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 171Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 42mgSodium: 612mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 12g