Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cheese & Football Feast Day 4: Belgium

Day 4 of the Euro 2016 football tournament saw Belgium play Italy, which I think was a tough opening draw for both teams. Huge reputations and expectations at stake, but Italy took the win. I continued my cheese and beer celebration of the tournament with a classic supper of Belgian Endive au Gratin and Leffe Blonde beer.
Not much to see of the endive (or witloof chicory) as it was all hidden under a rich cheese sauce and gratin topping, but this is a fine use of the slightly bitter vegetable. I may have been a little heavy on the sauce, and many recipes include ham as well, but this one was all about the cheese. My recipe called for gruyère but I used some comté, as does Raymond Blanc in his bbc website  recipe.

Chicory is not  so easy to cook as the chicory heads can discolour very quickly while you are cooking them, so lemon juice is usually added to the cooking water. The vegetable is produced by forcing chicory plant roots that have been lifted in the autumn and then planted out in dark, warm sheds to produce those pale tight leaved chicons. Well that is a rather simple version, as I think it is quite difficult to grow them as well as the ones for sale in the shops.

The recipe I followed, excluding the ham, was from the book  Everybody Eats Well in Belgium
Although none of the recipes are photographed for the book, there are some charming illustrations throughout and the recipes are written with lots of background information and useful tips. You lean a lot about Belgium life and culture while reading through the chapters. Vegetables that are less common in the UK like salsify, escarole and celery root are to be found and a whole chapter dedicated to cooking with beer!
Leffe Blonde is a rich and malty beer that paired well with the chicory and cheese. The brewery website suggests you drink it with white mould cheeses like brie so I shall have to try that as I always find them a bit hard to match. I love that it is bottled rather like champagne and it does have a very fine soft fizz or 'mousse', like champagne. You can buy some rather gorgeous glasses to go with your beer and I have happy memories of a short trip to Brussels where all the beers came served in their own glasses. I don't remember any good cheese, but we drank plenty of beer and ate lots of chocolate.  

For day 5 I am celebrating the cheeses of Portugal, with cheese bread and a predominantly cheese tapas plate.

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