I had already washed the escarole from our first CSA box and cut it in quarters. I was searing it in olive oil, one quarter at a time, when Chimp walked into the kitchen.
“Oh man,” he whined in mock exasperation. “Not burned lettuce for dinner again!”
“Burned endive, my dear. Escarole is an endive, not a lettuce.”
At our house, escarole most often ends up paired with white beans, olive oil, and lemon juice in a brothy soup. Liquid helps mediate its slight bitterness somewhat. I was in a different sort of mood today, though, and was thinking about how I could execute a gratin mostly in line with the Eat Local Challenge.
I knew I was going to brown one of my onions from K.M.K. Farms and make that part of the topping. I had Dry Jack cheese from Vella Cheese Co. in Sonoma in the fridge, and I knew that would go in. (Three Sisters Serena, from just south of Visalia, about an hour away, would have been much more local, but the wheel on offer at WFM wasn’t in the shape I wanted it to be. As a former cheesemonger, I’m terribly, terribly picky when it comes to the condition of my cheese. That tends to happen when you have 200 cheeses in front of you every day for five years and can eat each one at its peak.)
With the cheese figured, I also had cream, which would help add richness and moisture. Breadcrumbs are the traditional gratin topping, but I wasn’t in the mood for even a small amount of wheat, and there’s certainly nothing local about it.
I pulled a bag of walnuts out of the pantry. Chopped, they would add a crunch like breadcrumbs would, and though I bought these particular walnuts before I started the Challenge, there are plenty grown around here – I even know a couple local walnut growers.
Endive gratins I’ve undertaken a couple times before. I can remember a tomato-and-cheese topped one that I made probably ten years ago now. Escarole works better, though, in my opinion; because the ribs are thinner, it cooks more quickly and evenly.
The real evaluation is this, I suppose: there was none left within an hour of it coming out of the oven.
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