Monday, May 25, 2015

Braised Belgian Endives

Endive (ON-deev), not to be confused with curly EN-dive, is something that doesn't really exist in out in nature. The white to yellowish (sometimes slightly red) torpedo-shaped vegetable often has the word Belgian in front of it because it was discovered or created accidentally in Belgium around 1830. Seems a Belgian farmer forgot about his chicory roots that he left in his cool, dark, humid cellar. In the springtime he found these shoots growing from the chicory roots. They tasted pretty good and could be eaten raw.

Today, it is grown all over and California produces most of the nation's supply. It's a versatile vegetable that is too often overlooked. Individual leaves can be a healthy substitute for crackers. You can also arrange the leaves on a platter and add a spoonful of your favorite dip on each leaf (as I did a few years ago).

This recipe is adapted from endive grower, Rick Collins, who grows most of the endive we find in stores in Rio Vista. He offers this cooking tip:
"You want to braise these endives beyond al dente. I've seen them served still kind of crisp, but you want these to be really limp. They won't fall apart because of all the fiber in them, and you'll still have to cut them with a knife."

Braised Belgian Endives

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 Belgian endives, cut in half
  • 1 1/2 cups of broth
Heat oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron works real well for this). Add endives cut side down and sear for a few minutes. Press down with a spatula. When there is some visible browning, flip endives over and add stock. Reduce to a simmer and braise uncovered until the stock reduces and the endives are soft and carmelized.

Remove endives from the pan and serve hot, drizzled with reduced sauce. 

Serves 2 to 4 as a side dish.

Endive links with more information and recipe ideas:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Asparagus Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche

I was recently tasked with bringing a soup to a recent dinner party that had a spring theme. I started with a recipe I received from Joanne Weir but I added to it. This can be a main course with the addition of bread or a crostini. Smaller portions can be part of a larger dinner.

Asparagus is widely available but seasonally they represent spring. This is a good choice for an early spring dinner. The delicate bits of asparagus tips offer a bit of a crunch to this soup. The lemony creme fraiche pairs well and adds a refreshing dimension to the soup.

Asparagus Soup with Lemon Creme Fraiche


  • 3 lbs. asparagus
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 6 cups stock
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Aleppo pepper (optional)

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. Finely chop the flowery tips off of each asparagus and reserve in a bowl. Slice the rest of the asparagus into 3/4 inch pieces. 

Heat butter in a large pot. Coarsely chop the onion. Add minced garlic, onion, salt and pepper to pot and stir occasionally until soft, about 7 minutes. Add 3/4" pieces of asparagus and stock. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Add white pepper. Let soup simmer for 12-15 minutes. If it is too watery, simmer with the lid off to concentrate the soup. Let soup cool for 15 minutes and puree with an immersion blender or food processor. Add 1 tbsp. lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, mix together creme fraiche, lemon zest, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Add water to this thin slightly to make it more pourable over the finished soup.

Reheat soup over medium adding in the asparagus tips. 

To serve, place soup in bowls and drizzle some of the lemon creme fraiche on top. Garnish with Aleppo pepper flakes.

Serves 6.

Asparagus is tough to pair with wines. There are ingredients in asparagus that make wine taste metallic and harsh. Stay away from Chardonnays and go for herbal, floral wines. This article offers advice on selecting a good wine to pair with this soup. Sunset Magazine recommends Pinot Grigio.

We brought a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc for that New Zealand style wine and a Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc. Some preferred the softer Matanzas Creek while others preferred the brighter, steelier New Zealand as the better pairing.