But you may also know it by the name Belgian endive, French endive, witloof, chicory, and witloof chicory.
This slightly pungent leaf vegetable that is often added raw to winter salads or braised and served with a white sauce is fresh harvested from autumn through spring.
Endive is not wholly a gift of nature but also part human invention.
In about 1850, an observant farmer near Brussels noticed that wild chicory roots grew elongated when grown in both warmth and dark. A Belgian botanist later improved upon this observation to develop a cultivation process that produced the modern shoot-like chicory called endive.
There is no getting around the confusing nomenclature of this vegetable.
The simplest thing to say is that white endive starts life as wild chicory so the names endive and chicory have been used interchangeably.
Wild chicory—which looks something like dandelion–begins its transformation into endive in the autumn when its green leaves are trimmed away and the roots are replanted in the dark so that the leaves that re-grow are blanched white. But as the new leaves grow, they are forced to grow both vertical and compact as the new growth is mounded with soil, sand, or sawdust and essentially trained as a shoot.
In several weeks, the new growth measures from 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) in length and 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, and the dark green leaves and bitter taste of wild chicory are transformed into the white-leaved and mild-flavored endive.
Because wild chicory first became white endive in Belgium, it is sometimes called Belgian endive.
Because this cultivated vegetable was first introduced to commerce at Les Halles—the famous produce market in Paris, it is sometimes called French endive.
And because this cultivated chicory has white leaves, it is sometimes called witloof, the Flemish word that means “white leaf”.
In recent years, a cross between Belgian endive and radicchio—red leafed chicory—has been marketed as California red endive.
Choose. Select endive spears that are tightly closed, smooth, shiny, and swollen. White endive will be slightly yellow tinged at the leaf edges. The leaves of red California endive will be deep red color.
Avoid endive spears that are open, wilted, or browning at the leaf tips.
Store. Wrap endive in a damp paper towel and place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 5 days.
Prepare. Before serving or cooking, wipe the outer leaves of the endive spear with a damp cloth. You don’t need to wash or soak the spear in water; it will make it more bitter tasting. Pull off and discard outer leaves; trim the base straight across; cut out about 1 inch of the cone-shaped core (it’s very bitter tasting), then quarter or halve the heads.
Serve. Serve endive raw or cooked.
- Combine endive raw in salads with other greens sprinkled with vinaigrette.
- Combine endive with beets, apples, pears, walnuts, blue cheese, and orange or grapefruit quarters for a winter salad. (Balance the bitterness with something sweet.)
- Braise or steam endive and serve with béchamel sauce or top with butter and season with herbs.
- Parboil endive then wrap each spear in ham, cover with cheese sauce, and bake.
- Braise whole or quartered white endive spears in a mixture of butter, chicken or veal stock, white wine and a little sugar.
Nutrition. Endive is an excellent source of folic acid, potassium and contains vitamin C.
The botanical name of endive is Cichorium intybus.