Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Do as the Romans do and slow-cook whole endives for an effortless winter side dish.
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This recipe for a simple but delicious Roman side dish was plucked out of one of Ada Boni's old cookbooks. The original Italian name of the dish, indivie intere a crudo (literally "whole, raw endives") is a reference to the fact that they go right into the pot without being blanched first, not unlike a famous Roman recipe for broccoli -- broccoli strascinati -- where the broccoli hits the pan raw and retains a little crunch.
In this braised dish, however, there is no crunch. Instead, the endives are very slowly cooked, resulting in a nutty, caramelized exterior and an incredibly soft, almost melting interior. It typically sits alongside some roast beef or other roast vegetables, but it could also go nicely with fish or even hold its own as a main -- maybe paired with some crusty bread and a pungent blue cheese.
Belgain endives are a typical late fall and winter vegetable, though these days they are usually grown year-round, hidden underground to retain those characteristically pale leaves. The juicy leaves, crunchy when raw and soft and thick when cooked, are, like most chicories, wonderfully bitter. They go delightfully with dishes that are a little salty, a little sweet, or both. Look for perfectly pale, tightly enclosed leaves with just a hint of pale yellow, as if the tips of the leaves had been dipped in butter.
Possibly one of the lowest maintenance recipes I know, the beauty of this wintry side dish is that everything is just thrown together in a pot and covered while it braises very, very slowly and gently. Just remember to take a peek every now and then.
In her original recipe, Ada instructs to discard the garlic, but the slowly cooked, mellow, caramel-colored whole garlic cloves are absolutely delicious. Don't discard them -- devour them. You may even just want to throw in an extra clove or two. Mint is a really typical Roman herb, but you could substitute basil or fresh oregano here.
More: Our advice? Soak up the leftover olive oil and garlic with some good bread.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.