The 5-Ingredient Italian Appetizer That's Sweet, Bitter, Salty, Creamy & Crunchy All in One Bite

October 18, 2016

Belgian endives are one of my favorite low-maintenance ingredients. You don't need to fuss much with them. They are perfect just as they are.

A cousin of radicchio, Belgian endives carry that similar, characteristic, satisfying chicory bitterness in their juicy leaves. And, in fact, this is what makes them so delicious.

Belgian endives's pleasant bitterness and refreshing crunchiness pair well with strong flavors, like a cheese full of character or salty anchovies. It's delightful with something creamy (cream, butter, soft cheese), or, I discovered, a hint of something sweet like a drizzle of honey, to balance out the bitterness.

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Because of their shape and size, the juicy, crisp leaves, which sit like little boats, make perfect finger food, just waiting to be filled with something.

This delicate antipasto is so easy, you barely need to do anything other than assemble the ingredients and let the flavors do all the work. It's a wonderful balance of sweet, bitter, salty, and creamy.

Photo by Emiko Davies

And if you'd like to get a little more acquainted with endive's ease, here are some suggestions:

  • These Roman-style braised endives are minimally fussy, cooked with a bit of garlic, olive oil, and mint leaves until soft and mellow.
  • Jane Grigson cooks endive in butter and cream until golden and succulent or adds them raw to potato salad with prosciutto crude.
  • You can also simply roast them with a sprinkle of salt or keep them raw and dress them with a vinaigrette, crumbled blue cheese, and toasted walnuts.

  • And you can make a salad out them like Gabrielle Hamilton does, pretending that they are a beautiful, bitter, green bundle of Roman puntarelle and topping them with a bracing dressing of lemon, garlic, anchovies, and olive oil.

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

What's your favorite way to use endive? Let us know in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • JanieMac
  • patricia gadsby
    patricia gadsby
  • tiffbunny
  • Emiko
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.


JanieMac October 29, 2016
Patricia, I am making it tonight because chicory just appeared in the supermarket. One of my fondest food memories of living in Belgium years ago is the version you describe - what joy of comfort and richness with a nice bitter edge! My son would always tell me when they had it for lunch at school.
patricia G. October 23, 2016
I’ve eaten Belgian endive since I was a child but it wasn’t called that. Endive (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum) goes by the names witloof (white leaf) chicon or chicorée in Belgium, and chicory in England. We often had it in a gratin, growing up. The endive was cooked, drained and dried, wrapped in thinly sliced ham, napped with a cheesy béchamel and dusted with more cheese before its final passage in the oven. My version breaks with tradition. I braise the endive before wrapping a little ham or mild prosciutto around it. Braising makes it sweeter and less watery. And if I’m pressed, I skip the béchamel and oven-cooking. I just reduce some cream and whisk in very finely grated Parmesan. Pour the Parmesan cream over the bundles of endive and ham on a heatproof dish, sprinkle with grated Gruyère, and quickly run it all under the broiler.
Emiko October 23, 2016
Sounds delicious. Braised endives are a favourite of mine too (in fact the recipe linked above in particular!)!
tiffbunny October 19, 2016
This looks divine! Any tips on getting past the overwhelming bitterness of endive for those of us who are sensitive to it?
Emiko October 23, 2016
Yes! Try it exactly like this! The combination of the honey (sweetness) and cheese (creaminess and saltiness) together really balances out the bitterness of endive. Hope you enjoy it!