The Best of the Fat Fried in Fat

by Marina Chotzinoff

Both of my parents cooked well and often for the duration of my childhood. Their styles could not be more different though they did come together often in collaboration. My mom was the one buying the weird fruit (buddha’s hand anyone?), surprising me with a tiny, whole octopus all spread out on the counter and forcing me to eat my vegetables and drink 8 ounces of milk (the idea of which still makes me gag). My dad was banging out crazy production numbers involving deep fried walnut chicken, broccoli with hollandaise and chicken liver paté that seemingly took all day just to caramelize the onions. I learned from both of them and feel I have a pretty good balance of trying new things, going all out with intensely planned and prepared feasts and remembering to balance it all with some simple vegetables.

In 2002 my husband and I moved back to Denver to help look after my dad who had had a veritable potpourri of health situations. My sisters had been sharing the duties of various doctors and schleppers and paying attention to this medication and that complication and a variety of hospital visits (more on THAT here). On a trip to Denver, Ryan proposed (that story also here), my dad was in the hospital, and upon returning to San Francisco he asked me if we shouldn’t move back to Denver to look after him a bit. And so we did.

Throughout the next three years we alternated greatly in cooking arrangements. Many nights Ryan and I cooked for all of us, often catering to my dad’s whims (how about some sweetbreads or tempura?), but still insisting on a balance (we can have something alfredo, but it will be a pile of zucchini). On the nights Ryan was working cooking for other people out in the world I would assemble something for me and my dad and we’d walk down the precarious stairs to our apartment to watch an ungodly number of episodes of Six Feet Under…often still there when Ryan came home around midnight.

Occasionally my dad would have one of his inspirations and cook us up some dinner situation. As he got older these creations got saltier and fattier. To the point we dubbed them Fat Fried in Fat. This seemed a real dilemma to me considering he was on dialysis and always thirsty. And his “orange gookie,” a terrible concoction of pink lemonade, orange juice and grenadine mysteriously didn’t help things. So there were many a night we were woken up by his voice on the intercom:”Maru!? I think I need to go to the hospital.” And he was right. Congestive heart failure is a bitch.

Alas. Despite my pleas to use less salt and my own intense needs for healthier eating, these things fried in fat, bathed in cream and doused in salt continued to be proudly placed before us. And we’d eat it and make happy chewing noises real or fake. And he’d ask the standard “how’s the soup?!” which was basically family code for, “dish some more praise my way, would you?”

Hidden amongst these artery-clogging, heart disease-inducing dishes, however, were real goodies. And with the weather teasing Fall and a rib eye that wanted eating, I recalled fondly his creamy, cheesy baked endive. It’s not a dish I make often, but it is one he eventually began asking me to make and every once in a while I feel compelled to make it to accompany a simple roast chicken or grilled steak. This time around I chose to do more of a velouté base with just a touch of cream and some gouda instead of a full on cream sauce. I also added some bacon (to balance the absence of cream?) and pecans to the top which really kicked it into an entirely new realm. And I have to say, it was just as comforting and decadent and wonderful as I remember.

Serves 4 (but should maybe serve 8)

4 Belgian endive, sliced lengthwise in half
2 pieces bacon, sliced crosswise
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup gouda or fontina, grated
1 pinch nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Render bacon, remove to paper towel. Add pecans, stirring for a couple minutes, and add to bacon. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons bacon fat and brown endive on each side. Place endive in a baking dish that can hold them all in a cozy fit.

Add butter and flour to pan stirring for a few minutes. Add chicken broth and whisk until incorporated and beginning to thicken. Stir in cream and gouda, nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour cream mixture over endive, grate some parmesan on top and bake for about 40 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Garnish with bacon, pecans and chopped parsley.

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