Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Chicory with Cheese and Ham - Belgium

No faffing around tonight.  A recipe slathered in cheese sauce?  Belgium, you have been awarded the first gold medal of the 366 Recipe Challenge entry into the Olympic Food Challenge.  I salute you.

Based on previous performance, Belgium will surely welcome this medal, averaging just one gold per Olympics over the past few events, but with an impressive 139 medals in total over 24 Olympics - not bad for a relatively small nation. With 124 athletes competing in 16 disciplines, they should surely stand a chance of adding to their current haul of a solitary bronze in the judo.  Cycling is by far the best event with one fifth of their medals won on the road or track.

The linguistically diverse country is home to just shy of 11m people, speaking Flemish, German and Dutch as well as excellent English.  I know because I've been there.  To a Cliff Richard concert*.

Chicory, not chicken.  Honest!
Ask anyone about Belgian cuisine and they are likely to mention Chocolate, Beer, Fries and Waffles.  I missed an opportunity here because the two national dishes are steak-frites (lush) and moule-frites (equally lush).  Sadly, I appear to be allergic to mussels having never successfully held down a portion of moules - I've made several attempts at this.

Instead, I took the opportunity to pick the brains of one of the consultants who is working on one of my  projects at work for advice.  Not only is she Belgian, but she works for a company that sponsors the Olympics so she was the perfect choice to sort out today's recipe.

Despite a desire to dust down my waffle iron and make piles of them, laden with cream and caramel and bananas, I opted for A's favourite dish of chicory with ham and cheese.  She was kind enough to send me links to a series of recipes and her own personal opinions and experiences of them.  This was listed as a childhood favourite so I just had to try it.

I bought some chicory a few months ago to try in a Jamie Oliver meal but never got round to it.  Mostly because I seem to have mislaid the book (this is entirely possible in our house, trust me).  So having wasted one opportunity, I decided I absolutely had to tick it off of the list this time.  A mentioned that her mum used to also make this with leeks for a more subtle, child-friendly flavour.  Having tried the chicory version, I would probably go with leeks in the future for both flavour and cost.  The bitterness is interesting, but I won't say I'm a huge fan of them.

Belgian flag (in case you couldn't work it out!)
My sauce did go a little runny on cooking.  I would recommend using slightly less milk, but this could equally have been because I kept the calories down by using skimmed rather than full fat milk.  It still tasted fantastic though.

The recipe says to serve it with mash, but given the huge calorie overload from the cheese and the vaguely warm temperature from today, I opted for a side-salad instead.  In mid-winter on a bad day, I could fully eat this with a pile of buttered mash and some spinach on the side, just to make me feel a little bit good about such indulgent nursery food.

You can find the recipe I used here.  And thank you A for your help in finding the recipe!

*Don't ask.  It took enough guts to publicly admit I actually did this.

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