A beloved classic of Belgian cooking, this is a simple, rustic family dish. The comté cheese can be replaced by any British cheese. And, of course, omit the ham for a vegetarian version.
For the chicory
- 4 heads yellow chicory (witlof)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 large pinches sea salt
- 6 white peppercorns
For the chard
- 10 g unsalted butter
- 2 small silverbeet (Swiss chard) stalks with leaves, stalks chopped into 1 cm pieces, leaves roughly chopped
For the cheese sauce
- 35 g (1¼ oz) unsalted butter
- 35 g (1¼ oz) plain flour
- 450 ml (16 fl oz) full-cream milk
- 100 g (3½ oz) comté cheese, finely grated
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- pinch of sea salt
- pinch of freshly ground white pepper
To assemble the gratin
- 4 slices cooked ham
- 50 g (1¾ oz) comté cheese, finely grated
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
For the chicory, place it in a medium saucepan and add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, peppercorns and enough water to barely cover. Place on medium heat and cover with a circle of baking paper and a lid smaller than the diameter of the pan (this is to keep the chicory submerged). Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45-60 minutes. It is important to cook the chicory slowly to remove most of its bitterness.
Lift the chicory onto a wire rack to drain and cool. Once cool, gently press out any extra moisture with a tea towel.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (170°C fan-fored/Gas 5).
For the chard, place the butter and 100 ml (3½ fl oz) water in a saucepan on high heat. Cook the stalks for 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Once tender, lift them out and cook the leaves for 3 minutes in the same water. Strain, mix the stalks and leaves, and arrange in a small gratin dish.
Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. In a small saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour, whisk until smooth and cook to a nutty blonde colour. Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the milk and return to the heat. Cook for at least 4 minutes, stirring constantly with the whisk until the sauce thickens.
Add the cheese and mustard and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until the cheese has fully melted. Remove from the heat, taste and season if required.
To assemble the gratin, fold the ham slices in half and arrange one chicory head on each slice. Pack tightly in the gratin dish on top of the chard. Spoon over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake in the top of the oven for 25 minutes until golden-brown.
See more from Raymond Blanc in Royal Gardens On A Plate, on SBS and SBS On Demand.