A Delicious Make-Ahead Side Dish for the Holidays

Most of us have decided on the main course for our Christmas meal, but many (like moi) might not have all the side dishes determined. For those who are still choosing, you might consider a delicious gratin of Belgian endives with ham, crème fraîche, and Gruyère cheese. It serves six, but can be doubled easily.  Another plus you can prep and assemble this dish several hours ahead!

A classic French recipe, a gratin of endives is typically prepared by blanching endives, then wrapping them in thin slices of ham, and finally covering them in a béchamel sauce enhanced with cheese. For my version I halve the endives, then quickly sauté them in a little butter and oil. After being transferred to a baking dish, the endives are seasoned with salt, pepper, and thyme, and then topped with julienned strips of ham. Here’s the best part–in place of a heavy béchamel with cheese, I simply spoon some crème fraîche on each endive half and then add a generous sprinkling of Gruyère.

When baked for about 20 minutes, the cheese melts and combines with the crème fraîche to form a delicious sauce for this winter vegetable. Luxuriously rich, this delectable casserole would make a special garnish to roast chicken or turkey, roast leg of lamb, or grilled or roasted beef tenderloin. Or, serve it with a salad as a light lunch or supper entrée.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!



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Gratin of Belgian Endive Gratin with Ham, Crème Fraîche, and Gruyère  

6 medium to large Belgian endives (1 to 1 1/4 pounds total depending on size of the endives)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter plus extra for greasing the baking dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt
Several grinds black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 ounces good quality baked ham such as Nieman Ranch, sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2/3 cup crème fraîche
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) grated Gruyère
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves plus thyme sprigs for the garnish

1.Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Generously butter a 9- by 13- inch pyrex baking dish or similar-sized dish.

2.Halve each endive lengthwise. Remove any tough or bruised outer leaves. Then trim the root ends but leave the root intact. Heat the butter and olive oil in large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add enough endives, cut sides down to fit comfortably in a single layer. Cook 3 to 4 minutes until golden on the undersides. Then turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes more on other side until golden. Do not overcook; you just want to brown the endives. Repeat until all the endive halves have been sautéed.

3.Arrange the endives cut sides up in a single layer in the baking dish. Season them with 1/4 teaspoon salt, several generous grinds of black pepper, and the dried thyme

4.Cut ham slices into thin julienned strips about 1/4 inch wide by 2 inches long to make 2/3 cup, and scatter over the endives.

5.In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the crème fraîche to loosen it. Then spoon some crème fraîche over each endive and sprinkle with Gruyère. (This dish can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate; bring to room temperature 30 minutes before baking.)

6.Bake the gratin uncovered until hot and the cheese has melted and is beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Garnish the gratin with a sprinkle of thyme leaves and with several thyme sprigs. Serves 6.

Cooking note: Endives are slightly bitter, but cooking removes some of that bitter taste and accentuates endives'sweet notes.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2022

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