15 November 2010

15 November - King's Feast in Belgium; Endive au Gratin

Since 1866, today has been celebrated in Belgium as "King's Day" or "King's Feast" in honor of the Belgian monarch.  (This should not be confused with the Belgian National Day, which is on July 21 and celebrates King Leopold I taking the oath as the first sovereign of Belgium.)  A service in the Cathedral of St. Michel and St. Gudule in Brussels, at which a Te Deum is sung, is followed by a ceremony held by the Belgian Parliament.

You can read about the Kingdom of Belgium here, including its interesting political divisions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French and German speaking Walloons.  To get an idea of how much is packed into that small space, Belgium is about the size of the state of Maryland.

As for gastronomy, well... 
Belgian food has been described as "French quality in German quantities".  A melding of cultures has resulted in a rich and satisfying cuisine,  and they are not ashamed to enjoy it.  I agree.  Try this recipe which mixes tart endive with a rich cheese sauce.

To start with you will need 1 to 2 endives for each person, and enough ham slices, thin enough to roll, for each endive.  Eight heads of endive will yield enough for 4 - 8 servings.

This goes under a broiler, so use a shallow broiler-proof dish.

Wash the endive and cut away any tough segment of the stem.  Leave whole.  Cook endive in a small amount of salted boiling water for 20 minutes, or until tender.  Drain; when cool enough to handle, roll each head of endive in a piece of ham and place in your cooking dish.

Melt 1/3 cup of butter in a saucepan.  Blend in 1/4 cup of flour, then gradually add 2 cups of milk, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in 1/4 cup of grated Swiss cheese (or a Belgian cheese like Herve) until melted; add salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg.

Pour cheese sauce over endive.  Sprinkle another 1/4 cup of grated cheese over the top and dot with butter.  Brown lightly under the broiler.  

Need more Belgian recipes to try?  Go here for several Family Recipes (wonderful cuisine without a lot of fuss) or here for a list of 41 recipes, most of them adapted from Ruth Van Waerebeek's book "Everybody Eats Well in Belgium" [I'm inclined to agree with the title.  From Fries and Mussels to Carbonnade Flamande, washed down with Beer and followed by the ever-heavenly Chocolate, Belgians eat like kings!]