Belgian endive is a vegetable with an identity crisis: It is not especially Belgian, and it is not the same as the salad green called endive, though they belong to the same botanical family, that of the dandelion. Belgian endive is called witloof chicory, which perhaps is what led it to change its name.
In addition, it is not something that springs up in the garden as you see it in stores: It must be forced and blanched. The roots are dug up, cooled, planted deep in containers, kept in a cool room or basement and watered sparingly. Eventually the roots send up sprouts, or chicons, pure white from growing in the dark, and that is the part you eat. Because they require so much care, they can be expensive, but the delicate flavor of this pampered aristocrat makes it worth trying.
Belgian endive can be eaten raw in salads; its leaves are great for hors d'oeuvres. The heads can be braised as a side dish, or cooked with other ingredients in an entree. Endive has few calories -- one head, 5 to 7 inches long, about 2 ounces, has only 8 calories, 0.1 gram of fat and 4 milligrams of sodium.
This recipe is from "Cuisine Rapide," by Pierre Franey and Bryan Miller (1989, Times Books, $22.50.)
Scallops with endive in saffron sauce
1 1/4 pounds bay or sea scallops
2 large Belgian endive, about 1/2 pound
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (See note)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt to taste, if desired
freshly ground pepper to taste
If extra large sea scallops are used, cut them into quarters.
Trim the ends of the endive and cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. There should be about 4 loosely packed cups.
Heat the butter in a skillet and add the shallots. Cook briefly and add the endive and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, until wilted. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Cover tightly and simmer 10 minutes.
Add 3/4 cup cream, the saffron, pepper flakes, salt and pepper and cook, uncovered, over high heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
Add the scallops and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup cream, salt and pepper. Cook about 3 minutes or until the scallops have lost their raw look. Do not overcook.
(Note: If saffron is unavailable or too expensive, substitute turmeric.)