The Hauts-de-France region is the biggest producers of Cichorium intybus var. foliosum, or endives or chicorée de Bruxelles, a slightly bitter but well loved vegetable available throughout the year, although it’s mostly associated with winter. They usually come in bags of at least six.
Also known as chicons in France, endives are a versatile vegetable. They can be eaten fresh and crunchy in a salad. The leaves can be used as scoops (barquettes) to pick up a crab or tuna salad. They can be baked in the oven (gratin or endives caramelisées with lardons, crème fraîche, butter and a bit of sugar) or in a velouté.
The story goes that when Belgian farmer Jan Lammers, had to leave his farm in 1830 to fight for Belgian independence, he left chicory roots drying in his cellar, to make chicorée, the coffee substitute.
When he returned from the war a few months later he saw a pale, delicate head emerging from the roots, and it tasted good, and witloof, ‘white leaf’, was born.
Image by Dinkum