Chicory often divides opinion but it's really just matter of how it's served, not many people like to eat something that's plainly bitter (although there are a few of us) but often those who say they don't like bitter foods are the same people that just don't notice the bitterness in the things they already eat. Chocolate, coffee, washed rind cheese, rocket and kale all have more or less bitterness in them yet they almost always have other flavours to calm their otherwise difficult flavour. It can come in many guises, sugar for a bitter-sweet assault, acidity to balance out a dish or something creamy to smother and blend. The recipe below relies on all of these elements and utilises ingredients that are just coming into their peak season. Pears and chicory will both be in great condition until early next year, blue cheeses have had a good few months to mature from the finest high summer milk and there is almost nothing more festive than a heavy handed sprinkling of chestnuts.
Serves one or two as a starter
A good chunk of soft blue cheese (Stilton, Roquefort or Gorgonzola are all good choices)
2 or 3 Medium red endive
3 Small pears
Butter or, even better, bacon fat
A few pre-cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
Peel the pears, cut in half and remove the cores with a teaspoon. Rub them with a little lemon juice and begin to warm the butter, or bacon fat if using, in a pan. Once the fat has melted, and taking care to keep the heat low so as not to burn the butter, place the pears cut side down in the pan. Don't move them around too much and they should slowly begin to caramelise.
Meanwhile make the blue cheese dressing. Crumble the cheese into a bowl and mash it with a fork until quite fine. Pour over enough yoghurt to make a thin sauce and add salt and lemon juice to taste. If you want a smooth sauce you can put the mix into a blender for a few seconds but who wants to do that much washing up?
Once the pears are beginning to look golden underneath flip them over and put the chicory, halved, into the pan with them. Cook everything together just long enough so that the endive begins to char slightly and wilt. Add the contents of the pan to the dressing and mix everything together until the warm ingredients are well coated in the silky cheese sauce.
Spoon the salad onto plates and scatter over the chestnuts. Finish with an artistic drizzle of finest summer honey.