We all have foods we associate with our childhood. Hot chocolate. Spaghetti Bolognese. Tomato soup.
It can be different for everyone, influenced by so many different things. Where you grew up. Who in your family liked to cook. How affluent the family was. What kind of tastes your parents had. It all shaped your palette as it formed your memories.
This classic Belgian dish, for me, is one that will eternally remind me of childhood days in Belgium.
It’s not even that my mum made this often, although it did crop up occasionally. But I remember it so vividly, and it has a truly comforting effect on me, reminding me of rainy Belgian days, of school work, of family TV times all piled into our parents’ bed, and of delicious smells wafting through the house.
I’m not going to lie – it’s not going to be for everyone (but I’ve got an alternative for those of you it might not be for!). Chicory can be a real “Marmite” food. You love it or you hate it. And cooking it changes the flavour and texture completely, so that even if you didn’t like it raw you may love it cooked or vice versa. But if you like it, this is simply the way to have it.
It is a perfect food for early autumn (fall to my American friends). As the light starts to grow a little darker and the days a little drearier, this comfort food that is somehow still light and almost hints at summer is perfect.
It has a decadent feel to it, full of cheese and deep, strong flavours. It is lovely, luxurious, light.
If you are unsure about what to do with the delightful peppery deliciousness that is chicory, other than chopping it and adding it to a salad for extra crunch and flavour, this is the meal for you. If you are not a fan, you can make this with leeks instead, but I highly recommend using chicory for the beautiful flavour it adds.
I was surprised by how much my children enjoyed it, having never had chicory before, and it made me flash back to when I first had it, tentative and unsure whether I was impressed or not at first, but thoroughly enjoying it by the final bite!
I hope that you will come to love it that easily, too.
A delicious Belgian classic, this dish is bold and impressive in flavour, but simple and cheap to make. A perfect weeknight dinner.
- 6 chicory*
- 6 slices of ham, off-the-bone and free range ideally
- 2 tbsp butter 2 tbsp flour (plain or rice), 500ml milk, 100g Cheddar cheese, grating nutmeg, salt & pepper
- 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
- fresh basil or parsley, roughly chopped, to serve
- 2 tbsp flour (plain or rice flour)
- 500 ml milk
- 100 g Cheddar cheese
- grating of nutmeg
- salt and pepper
boil for 6-8 mins until soft
wrap around the drained cooked chicory
pour over ham-wrapped chicory
sprinkle over cheese sauce and grill on med-high heat for 5 mins until golden and bubbling
*use leeks if you are not a fan of chicory, but chicory (ideally white but red works too) is best for depth of flavour