Ham au gratin with braised chicory

Ham au gratin recipe


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Chicory is called 'Witloof' in Flemish and Chicon by the French nationals, it is grown underground, protected from sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green. The chicory is kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the tip of the leaves. It used to be very bitter and children were therefore not very keen on eating it. The last few decades chicory isn't very bitter anymore, due to new growing techniques using hydro beds, they managed to tone down the bitterness. The last four years however there's been a revival for open ground chicory cultivation as food lovers are on the lookout for the bitter taste they remember from their childhood. Once loathed, now loved.

Legend goes that blanched chicory was accidentally discovered in a town near Brussels in the 1830s during the war with Holland. A farmer tried to hide his Root chicory by covering it by sand, after a few weeks he discovered that from the roots a small head of cream-coloured leaves had grown. He started selling the leaves and called them 'Witloof' which means 'white leafage'.

If you are making a roux which is the base of a white sauce you need to know one thing: flour and butter is 1 to 1 ratio. I always make a large quantity and store in an airtight container in the fridge for when I need it. If you want to do this you just make the dry base which is the flour and butter together, let it cool before you put it into a container.
When you want to use it you need to warm the milk, when you are using the roux straight away you need your milk to be cold.
So the rule is: warm dry paste = cold milk - cold paste = warm milk.
When you've added the milk to the dry paste, you need to cook it until the taste of flour is completely gone.

Food and wine/beer pairing:

Serve with a Belgian blonde Triple or a good British hoppy beer.

If you prefer wine, go for a dry white Soave or a splendid dry English wine.

Clean the chicory heads by removing withered leaves and carve a cross in the stalks so they cook faster. Butter a deep pan, bottom and sides and place over a medium heat
Add the chicory and braise, adding a pinch of sugar and turning frequently for the first 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of water. Stuff the baking paper in the pan so it touches the chicory and it completely covers the pan
Leave larger chicory heads for 30 minutes, and 15 minutes for smaller ones
Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas mark 6
To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a small pan. Add flour and stir constantly until you get a crumbly paste that smells a bit like pancakes. Use your nose, if you think it smells like flour you're not done yet and keep stirring
When the roux is done, save some in a container for next time and start adding milk to the roux left in your pan. Keep stirring until you get a silky sauce
Add the cheese and stir. If the sauce is too thick add some extra milk
Season the sauce now with pepper and nutmeg, as the cheese will already give the sauce a salty touch you will need to add less salt
Divide your mashed potatoes over the dishes, or one dish as you prefer. Dry the chicory heads with some kitchen paper. Wrap the chicory with the ham
Arrange the wrapped chicory heads over the mash. Cover with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle some cheese over the dish. Add some breadcrumbs if you like
Add to a preheated oven, under the grill for 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted and developed a delicious crust
Grill for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted
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