Witloof met hesp en kaas

This is a fairly unknown dish internationally, even here in Germany. In Belgium, however, “Witloof met hesp en kaas” or “Endives au jambon gratinées” (i.e. chicory with ham and cheese) is extremely popular and widespread. Our reader Linda Rose from the Netherlands explained to us that this dish is also well-known there and is called “Witlof met ham en kaas”. However, we don’t know whether the Dutch version is very different from the Belgian one.

The fact that chicory exists at all is probably due to a gardener in the old botanical gardens in Brussels, who discovered around 1845 that the extremely bitter chicory plants also grow in the dark, remain white and only have a delicate bitter flavour.

The name comes from “wit loof”, which means white leaves. Chicory was often used as a coffee substitute during wartime.

Chicory is available in every supermarket here, but most people use it to make crisp, fresh salads. We love chicory and this dish in particular as an unusual winter vegetable. The bitter flavour that is combined with a delicious cheese sauce and mild ham in this recipe is absolutely brilliant. Try it, you’ll be surprised. Bitter vegetables are also extremely healthy and anyone who appreciates asparagus, radicchio or artichokes will also love this dish.

The few ingredients

First prepare the raw chicory by cutting out the hard stem at the bottom with a small, sharp knife.

Now place the chicory in a pan on melted butter. Add the juice of a lemon, sugar, salt and pepper as well as water or vegetable stock and let everything simmer gently with a lid on a low heat for 30 to 45 minutes until the chicory is completely soft. Depending on the size and firmness of the chicory, this can take different lengths of time. The important thing is that it doesn’t burn. If necessary, you can add a little water or stock.

Now remove the lid and build up flavour: as soon as the liquid has boiled away, the chicory will brown delicately at the bottom of the pan. Turn it carefully so that it can caramelise on all sides. Then take it out and drain it very thoroughly in a sieve.

Now the sauce is prepared. This is a classic French Mornay sauce – a particularly tasty variation on the well-known béchamel.

Melt butter in a sauce pan over a medium-high heat until it foams. Then add flour and stir with a whisk until the butter and flour are well combined.

Before this mixture starts to brown, slowly pour in cold milk, stirring constantly with the whisk to prevent lumps from forming.

5 – 10 minutes are enough

This béchamel is flavoured with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. We prefer to add a little spicy kick with piment d’Espelette, a particularly elegant type of chilli from the Basque Country. Unfortunately, it’s expensive, but you only ever need a very small amount. You can, of course, also use cayenne pepper.

Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and stir in about half of the grated cheese.

When the cheese has melted and the sauce has reached a low temperature, stir in egg yolks with the whisk. The sauce is now relatively thick and can be finally seasoned to taste.

Grease a small oven dish with butter. Wrap each braised chicory in a slice of cooked ham …

… place it in the dish and pour over the Mornay sauce.

Spread the rest of the cheese on top and season everything again with a little salt, pepper and piment d’Espelette or cayenne pepper.

The Witloof is now baked in a preheated oven at 220 degrees without fan. It takes about 15 minutes until a golden brown crust has formed.

This dish is rich, yet elegant and, above all, very exciting in terms of flavour.


And may the taste be with you.

Ingredients (for 4 persons):

4 – 6 chicory

3 tbsp butter

Juice of one lemon

1 tbsp sugar

A little salt

Black pepper from the mill

250 ml water or vegetable stock

50 g butter

35 g flour

500 ml milk


Cayenne pepper or Espelette pepper

100 g tangy cheese (e.g. Gruyère), grated

2 egg yolks

1 slice of cooked ham per chicory

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