The first local Belgian endives indicate that fall is really here. This hearty, pleasantly bitter leaf lends itself well to rich preparations with bacon, cheese or butter. Here is one fine example:
2 ounces pancetta or good quality bacon, diced
6 heads endive
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated raclette or other good Swiss-style cheese (option)
In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, cook the pancetta until fat is rendered and pancetta is crisp. Transfer to a paper towel to drain. Drain the fat and wipe the pan clean.
Trim 6 endives and slice them in half lengthwise. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
In the same skillet, heat some butter and brown the cut side of the endives over a high flame. Do this in batches, adding butter each time. The pan will brown, which is fine - just don't allow it to blacken; if it does, wash it out before the next batch.
Place the endives, brown side up, in a gratin dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer and scatter the cooked bacon between them. Pour chicken stock into the dish to a depth of ½ inch. Cover tightly and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until quite tender.
Option: uncover and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake, uncovered for 5 minutes or so until the cheese melts. Serve as a side dish or - if using cheese - a vegetarian main course.