In the Basement with Gourmet

On Monday I put the finishing touches on the basement clean up we started back in mid-January. In the days post-Christmas, basement disorder had ruled, with boxes, boxes, everywhere: boxes full of cast-off kid stuff cleared out of bedrooms, boxes of books to be sorted for donating, and all the empty cardboard boxes from mail ordered Christmas gifts. No longer, I’m happy to say.  With a final sweep and a twist of a trash bag, order has been restored.

Order is nice, rediscovering an old magazine collection is even nicer, especially when that collection represents twenty years of Gourmet.

I began subscribing in 1984, the year after I graduated from college, and received my first issue in November, just in time for Thanksgiving. From that issue on, month after month I read recipes, New York and Los Angeles restaurant reviews, and travel articles. In November alone, I learned about Paris tea rooms, Brussels, Goa, and the American southwest – back then just as foreign to many of us east coast readers as the Goan resorts on the Arabian Sea. “Visitors to the Southwest may be hesitant to try the native dishes found there,” begins Anne Lindsay Greer’s article about tasting green chiles, pepper ristras, and chocolate flavored with cinnamon in Arizona and New Mexico.

I received an issue in March of 1988, the month my daughter would be born. With the exception of the cheese souffle I made for dinner the night before I went into labor, I don’t remember much of what I cooked that month.  But I’m sure I read about Majorca and Hong Kong and Vienna with a wistful longing, knowing my only trip that month would be to the delivery room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago.

I received an issue in January of 1993, the issue in which the novelist Laurie Colwin’s article about gingerbread was published posthumously. “The sad fact is that gingerbread is on the decline,” she writes, and I wish she were around to know the decline reversed, with gingerbread now embraced by a whole new generation, thanks to her wonderful recipe and children like my son (born that month, that year) lucky enough to taste test it at home many times over, always after school, always served up with an ice cold glass of milk.

I kept on subscribing to Gourmet through August of 2004, when a young author named David Foster Wallace wrote a controversial article titled Consider the Lobster, a thought-provoking but dour assessment of the annual Maine lobster festival and unflinching criticism of the practice of eating lobsters.  The article went on for pages and included 20 lengthy footnotes. His plea – before eating, consider that the lobster is submerged live into a pot of boiling water – had value, but his contempt for the travelers among the readership wounded. “[To be a mass tourist] is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing,” Foster Wallace wrote.  I wrote and cancelled my subscription. I wasn’t alone.

The magazines and I have been getting reacquainted this week, and I hope to offer you more glimpses into issues in the weeks ahead.

In honor of my first Gourmet and the November 1984 article about Brussels, here is an easy but tasty recipe for a Belgian endive side dish I made last week. Try cooking with under appreciated vegetables like the endive during these last few weeks of winter and the wait for fresh spring greens won’t seem so long. Between four and six leeks, halved, would make a great substitution for endive in this dish.

Belgian Endive Gratin

(adapted from The Silver Spoon)

  • 4 heads of Belgian endive (about 2 pounds or just under)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 (or 2) tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter or spray with non-stick spray a large oval gratin dish or 13″x9″ rectangular baking dish.

Trim the root ends from the endive, keeping the heads intact.  Halve each, then quarter.

Nestle the quarters close together in a row in the baking dish.

Lightly salt and pepper the endive.  Pour the milk and stock over the top.

Set the dish in the oven to bake for 3o minutes.  The liquid will be mostly evaporated at that point. As the endive bakes, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet.  Add the panko and stir with a wooden spoon until the crumbs turn golden brown.  Remove from the heat to cool.  When cool, mix together with the grated parmesan and set aside.

When the endive has baked for 30 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle with the toasted bread crumb-cheese mixture.  Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.  The liquid will have evaporated and thickened a bit more.

Serve immediately.

©2012  Jane A. Ward