Caramelized Endive Gratin
A beautifully delicate dish, this is also a cinch to make. It would be an elegant first course or a stunning side plate in a grand meal. When you select your endives, they should be firm, and white, with no brown edges. Endive can range in size from small to large--I prefer the smaller, slimmer variety. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove any damaged outer leaves and trim the stem ends. Cut the endives in half lengthwise.
Heat a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When the butter begins to melt, sprinkle in the sugar and salt and spread evenly around the pan.
Place the endives cut side down in the pan. Let them cook undisturbed for 3 to 5 minutes. Check to see that they're nicely browned--you may want to move their position in the pan at this point to get even color. Turn off the heat and turn them over in the hot pan for a minute.
Lay the caramelized endives cut side up in a small baking dish. Sprinkle with half the thyme leaves. The cheese you use in this dish is certainly open to interpretation, as long as it's one that melts well. I love the mild, tangy flavor of Italian taleggio, but would definitely try using nutty gruyere or raclette, as well. Thinly slice the cheese and lay the slices on top of each endive. Top with more thyme leaves and place in the oven to bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
I think fresh breadcrumbs are essential here--they have a softer, lighter crunch. Remove the crust from a slice of country bread (I used sourdough) and chop in a small processor to create crumbs.
Take the baking dish out of the oven and raise the temperature to 400 degrees. Top the endives with the fresh breadcrumbs and freshly cracked black pepper. Place back in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 2 to 3:
3 small to medium endives
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of sugar
pinch of kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
6 ounces taleggio, raclette or other melting cheese
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
freshly cracked black pepper