This weekend, in Le Villaret, my friend Jerry chose a better main course than me (don’t you hate it when that happens?): rabbit cooked with sage, rose garlic confit and braised chicory. It was so good that it put my (stunningly over-peppered) venison to shame. I don’t really like chicory raw but, once braised in butter and with something salty like cheese or ham, it becomes a completely other entity. I first experienced it, both cooked and raw, in France where it is often served wrapped in ham then baked in a cheese sauce. Bloody gorgeous but a cheese sauce, as well as forty minutes of baking, is a bit of a faff midweek. As soon as I got back I started hunting for an equivalent with fewer steps. And there it was in Ottolenghi: chicory braised in some sugar and butter, topped with a quick mix of cheese, cream, breadcrumbs and thyme then finished off, of course, with some ham. Quick, yum and pretty low on ingredients for Ottolenghi. You could probably make it even simpler by just mixing cream and cheese and using whatever ham you can get hold of but, if so, try and keep the thyme; it goes really well with the chicory. I’d also say that, although I baked it for 15-20 minutes as per the recipe, a little longer would probably be even better. All you need to go with this is some fresh bread.
Caramelised chicory with Serrano ham (adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)
For two portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
butter, 15g (small lump then…)
caster sugar, a heaped teaspoon
sea salt and black pepper
olive oil, a splash to serve
fresh thyme leaves, 1 tablespoon
double or whipping cream, 40ml
Serrano ham, 4 slices
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan-assisted/gas 6.
2. Trim the chicory of any brown or old leaves but don’t cut off the ends. Cut in half from root to tip.
3. Put the butter and sugar in a frying pan over a high heat and, once the butter is foaming, add the chicory halves, cut side down. Cook for about five-ten minutes, turning once, until golden brown on both sides.
4. Whilst the chicory is caramelising, grate the cheese and mix with the breadcrumbs, cream, thyme leaves and a little salt and pepper.
5. Put the chicory, cut side up, into a small ovenproof dish, cover with the bread and cheese mixture, then put a slice of ham on top of each chicory half.
6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the chicory is soft (i.e. when a knife goes in easily), drizzle over a little olive oil and serve with some bread.