Food shopping can be fun. Most times. Except perhaps when you find yourself in situations where a) you bump into badly informed, impolite or grumpy vendors, b) have to wait in line at the cheese counter and the eldery lady just ahead of you entangled herself in a debate about whether she wants to go with the young Gouda or its aged brother or c) have your three kids in tow and are trying to avoid casualties fighting your way through the sweets department of the store. The last point actually brings back vivid and not necessarily positive memories of my au pair time in London, another reason I regularly admire the calmness of moms keeping their kids-on-a-sugar-high in check while chipping away from an excessive shopping list.
The cliché of an unhurried stroll over the local market with nothing but friendly greeting vendors and an affable chat here and there is not the common reality. On a regular working day food shopping is mostly an inevitable task squished in between demanding work projects and private appointments – it needs to be done if you don’t want to be confronted with a yawning void in your fridge. This is where efficiency pays off and planning ahead saves you nerves, time and money. That is… well, in theory. While I am a planning type of person (easily mastering shopping for clothes & shoes), I’m lousy if it comes to being efficient at food shopping. I tend to be all over the
place Munich to get exactly what I want and need, but in no sensible order. In the end I manage to keep the fridge full, but I feel it could be so much less running around…
And to make things worse, I change shopping plans on the fly without having an alternative plan at hand – makes sense? I rarely manage to stick with the shopping list I leave the house with, oftentimes seasonal products jump right at me, begging to be part of the next culinary happening. And that’s the problem, seasonal products are great, but it’s killing me to quickly come up with a recipe and thus justify the purchase right then and there.
Now what to do with the 3 heads of chicory I got at the market stall at Weißenburger Street? I successfully missed to hear that inner little voice, assuring me that chicory is probably not what I wanted and besides it has never been a regular in our kitchen. Back home and in need of a quick dinner fix, the three heads gave me a little headache until… until I thought of bacon: Is there anything that cannot be turned into something delish with just a bit of bacon?
Bacon is always readily available in my kitchen, can’t image the the day I run out of it and it would be a horrible day that’s for sure. It was just as easy done as said, the chicory got nicely flavored and baking it in the oven turned the crisp salad into a soft and moist vegetable, reminding me a little of cooked white asparagus. Most of its bitterness was gone and the crunchy crust perfected this one-dish meal. Hooray to spontaneous shopping list changes and may the chicory season never end!
Preheat the oven to 180°C (~355°F) and prepare the gratin dish or baking form with a little butter or olive oil.
Remove any outer, limp leaves of the chicory heads, slice lengthways in two halves (wash if necessary), cut out the bitter core and arrange in the dish, cut side up. Dust with sugar to balance the bitterness, decorate with stripes of bacon and small pieces of butter and bake in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes (the tips of the chicory may turn light brown and the bacon will have become a little crisp).
Remove from the oven and turn the heat up to 200°C (~390 °F). Spoon some of the melted butter over the chicory halves and season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix breadcrumbs and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, then graciously cover the chicory with them. In case you have a few older bread rolls sitting around, cut them up in smaller pieces and let your blender do the rest until you’re happy with the size of crumbs. Fresh thyme leaves and some more butter pieces are optional.
Bake in the oven for a few more minutes (5-10), until the crust takes on a nice, golden brown color and the chicory has become almost translucent and soft. I usually turn the oven fan on as well as the grill, but be alert, this will accelerate the process a lot – keep an eye on it.
Release from the oven, serve as an appetizer or together with boiled potatoes as a main dish and find out, that chicory despite its well manifested bitter rep, can be your best friend ;)
Chicory gratin with bacon
Prep time: 10min., baking: 20-25min.
Ingredients (serves 2):
for the baking form: a little butter or olive oil
3 to 4 heads chicory, cleaned and halved
2-3 tbsp sugar
~50 g butter
4-5 thin slices of bacon or Pancetta, cut in smaller stripes
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
~5 tbsp breadcrumbs
~5 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
optional: a few fresh thyme leaves