Add heat and some sweet and bingo! Bitter leaves become irresistible
Have fun riffing on this rediscovered French recipe
Have you ever rummaged through a closet and come upon something — for me, it’s usually a sweater — that you haven’t worn in a while? Maybe a very long while? Maybe you’d even forgotten you owned it? Pulling it out and taking a spin in it is like getting something new. For free! At least that’s the way I always feel about it. And because I love new things (hooray for surprises and gifts from out of the blue), I’m apt to wear whatever I’ve found a few times in a row. It’s the same for me with recipes. When I re-find a recipe — i.e., when I remember that I had the recipe — I fall in love with it all over again and I’ll serve it over and over again. It’s what happened when I rediscovered the recipe for Endives, Apples and Grapes in Around My French Table, which was published in 2010 (and so that means that I first made the recipe sometime before 2008 — yikes!)
I remember that I loved the recipe as soon as made it, and that I made it thanks to my friend Meg Zimbeck, who recommended it to me — if you love Paris, you must subscribe to Meg’s newsletter, Paris by Mouth. The original dish was the brainchild of Paris chef Alain Passard, and the genius of it was, and remains, its simplicity. Also, its match-up of bitter with sweet. Oh, and its saltiness, too. For a dish that’s essentially just endives, apples, a few clusters of grapes, butter, salt, pepper and herbs, it’s got everything.
A Quick Aside
Belgian endives are beautiful. Their leaves, almost like long petals, are white and tipped with green. They can be eaten raw — slice them crosswise into a salad or use the leaves as scoops for dips — or cooked. And no matter what you do, they’ll be bitter. That’s their nature. They’re a member of the chicory family and the whole clan is bitter in the most wonderful way.
And Another Quick Aside
If endive’s your jam or if you love all things bitter, then you need my friend Jennifer McLagan’s book: Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, With Recipes. And you’ll want to listen to her with David Lebovitz on his podcast (and subscribe to David’s newsletter, if you haven’t already).
The Magic of Heat
Here’s the nub of the recipe: You melt salted butter in a skillet, arrange the endives and fruit in the pan, and cook over low heat for longer than you’d think. The dish looks beautiful before you cook it and beautiful once it’s cooked, but it is entirely transformed by the heat. The endive — such an elegant vegetable! — softens and caramelizes, but keeps its bitter character. The apples brown, sweeten and slump appealingly. And the grapes quietly steal the show — their texture turns velvety, their flavor intensifies, and when mixed with salty butter, their sweetness weaves its way through the whole dish. It’s a revelation.
The Joy of Playing Around
After I tested the recipe and included it in the book, I made it many times, each time a little differently, in part because that’s just the way I am, but also because the recipe itself invites riffing. For a Thanksgiving version, I used slices of red kuri squash (you don’t have to peel this variety), apples, grapes and chestnuts (choose chestnuts that are already cooked) and I drizzled the dish with maple syrup. When I made the dish a week ago, I used endives, big chunks of apples and black grapes and, when I found chestnuts in the cupboard, I added those, patting myself on the back for being so clever, having completely forgotten that I’d been just that clever before.
These days, when I make the dish, I use more butter than I used to, switch up the herbs and sometimes finish the dish with toasted nuts. Sometimes I serve the dish with a dollop of ricotta spoonable or a handful of salad dressed with a sharp vinaigrette. I haven’t done it — yet — but adding pancetta sounds like a good idea to me.
Grab a heavy skillet, set the heat to low, let everything warm, soften and brown and then tell me how you like it. I’ll be looking for you on Instagram and Facebook and in the comments here, so keep in touch.
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ENDIVES, APPLES AND GRAPES
GOOD TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START
The endives: The dish is built around Belgian endives that are halved lengthwise. If you wanted, you could use red endives. Although I’ve been loyal to endive, the dish might be nice with wedges of cabbage — cabbage chars so nicely.
The apples: You want an apple that will soften, but not turn to mush, which means you should steer clear of Macs. Recently, I had small apples and was able to just halve and cook them. I think the dish is best when the apples are chunky, so check the apples’ heft before you decide on the best way to cut them. And yes, keep the peel on.
The grapes: The original recipe called for white or green grapes and I loved when, in Paris, I was able to get perfumy muscat or chasselas grapes. But these days, I just choose grapes with a flavor I like and don’t pay attention to color. These days I also look for seedless grapes.
The butter: If you don’t have salted butter, you can use unsalted and add salt to taste to the dish. If you can find butter with salt crystals (easy to find in France, not so easy in America), celebrate. While I’ve given you an idea of how much butter you need, it’s just an idea — watch the pan and add more butter as needed.
The herbs: Up for grabs.
The pan: I love a cast iron skillet for this dish. It cooks perfectly and I like to serve the dish from it.
Makes 4 starter or side-dish servings
2 plump Belgian endives (see above)
1 to 2 tart-sweet apples, depending on size (see above)
About 2 to 4 tablespoons salted butter (see above)
4 small clusters of grapes (see above)
Herbs, such as small rosemary or thyme sprigs, a couple of bay leaves or maybe some sage (see above)
Salt (fleur de sel would be good here) and freshly ground pepper
Cut the endives lengthwise in half. If you’ve got 1 large apple, quarter it; if you’ve got two small ones, halve them (see above). No matter what kind of apple you’ve got, remove the core, but leave the peel.
Put a large skillet — cast-iron (see above) or nonstick (if you’ve got it) — over low heat and toss in 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it’s melted, put the endives into the pan cut side down and the apples. Add the grapes, scatter over the herbs and cook undisturbed for 20 minutes, at which point the underside of the endives will have caramelized and the apples and grapes will be soft and perhaps browned. Gently turn everything over and add more butter in small bits, if needed. Cook for about 20 minutes more, checking now and then on the butter.
When everything’s cooked, you might want to pour a few spoonfuls of water into the pan to help you nab the cooking sugars and make a spare amount of sauce. Season with salt and pepper, spoon over the sauce (if there is any) and serve.
STORING: This needs to be eaten the day it is made.
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📚 You can find more recipes in my latest book BAKING WITH DORIE.