The Baking Dish

Things have got out of hand so I am rearranging the kitchen. This requires engineer-like precision in space management but mostly it highlights the amount of stuff I have. Which then begets the question, how much is too much? Where kitchens are concerned, better to have than have not seems to be my motto. In any case, I am good at this, if I am allowed to say so myself, because I have experience.

I have moved house more times than most, so I am no stranger to organizing a kitchen. But the process is not completely streamlined yet. What happens during the unpack is, I wonder why more was not taken to the charity shop before the move. The next thing that happens, usually after a few months in a new place, I start looking for something and then annoyingly remember I gave it away. It is a difficult balance to achieve, knowing what to shift and what to keep. Thankfully, I am inconsistent so some items have survived the multiple upheavals and my seemingly random sifting mechanism.

Current logistics problem aside, I have decided it is good to hang on to things. As we cohabit over the years, these things and I, we settle in together. They become necessary, familiar objects, each one a comforting reminder of lives and homes past: an antique jug from les puces at Porte de Vanves, the mantle clock from Bermondsey market, a patchwork quilt from my childhood. I think about who I was with when I bought it, or which shelf it sat on in another house, or what bed it covered years ago. This is also why unpacking, and rearranging, take me so long.

In the kitchen, I came across one such steadfast companion: a small brown oval baking dish. It is an ordinary ceramic dish. Speckles of baked-on black bits dot the the dark edges and the beige interior has a patina of crackles from years of greasing, roasting, scrubbing.

The shop where I bought it was somewhere in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. It was one of those very old fashioned places with a stern shopkeeper and just enough on display to entice you in but not quite enough so you can help yourself without asking for assistance. They are seductive, these shops; alluring yet intimidating, and what they lack in customer care skills and decent lighting they make up for in fabulous stuff, all kept behind the counter of course. Household items are usually what they sell and, for a certain kind of person, if utensils and gadgets are involved, the promise of finding an object of desire often outweighs the fear of going in and asking for it.

I was in my early twenties at the time, with genuinely very little in the way of kitchen equipment. The shop was not far from where I lived, so I passed it often. One day, the gap in cooking utensils became too much to bear so there was an excuse, a need even, to venture in. Naturally, what I wanted could not be seen: a small inexpensive vessel, something to cook a gratin in. There was no choice but to ask.

Fitting my description rather perfectly, a small brown oval baking dish was brought forth, on its own. No choosing. No refusing either, was how it felt. The dish was solemnly wrapped in tissue paper and I carried it home. It was not love at first sight, as it was forced upon me rather then selected, but it was useful and has remained so.


In this current kitchen, the dish does not sit nicely inside any of the other small baking dishes, so it lives with the big ones, making a mockery of attempts to neatly arrange the baking dish section of the cupboard. But I don’t mind, really. It is my small brown baking dish, from the housewares shop in Paris. And it is still here.

Gratin d’Endives
(Baked Chicory with Ham and Gruyère)

This is a traditional French recipe, very homey and old fashioned, and perfect for a simple
winter supper. Choose endives that are similar in size to ensure even cooking. I like to roast
them on their own first, to make sure they cook thoroughly but also to wilt and caramelize
the tips the leaves, which improves the taste immensely. Serve with crusty bread and a
rustic wine. You will need a baking dish.

Serves 3-4

6 large chicory/Belgian endive, about 90 g each
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
12 slices ordinary ham
100 g Gruyère cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Butter, for greasing the baking dish

For the béchamel
50 g unsalted butter
40 g plain flour
600 ml hot milk
1/2 tsp fine salt
Pinch of grated nutmeg
50 g Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Generously butter a 33 x 21 cm baking dish.

Halve the chicory lengthways. Drizzle over the oil then rub all over with your hands to coat evenly. Arrange in a single layer on the baking tray. Sprinkle lightly with salt and about 4 tbsp water. Roast until just tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Leave the oven on.

Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel. Melt the butter in a havey-based saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minutes. Switch to a whisk and pour in the hot milk gradually, whisking constantly until it’s all added. Keep whisking, gently, until the sauce begins to thicken, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the salt, nutmeg and 50 g of the cheese.

When the chicory are cool enough to handle, wrap each half in a slice of ham and arrange, side-by-side, in the prepared dish. Pour over the bechamel, spreading to coat evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over all and bake until browned and bubbling, 20-30 minutes. Serve hot.

38 thoughts on “The Baking Dish

  1. segmation

    Love your style! I thought I was the only one with a favorite dish that goes with me from house to house! Perhaps you can take this dish and display it somewhere in your house? Do you have other recipes besides the delicious Gratin d’Endives?

    1. Laura Washburn Post author

      Thanks, glad you liked it. All the essay posts end with a recipe. I’m currently redesigning the site so there will be a proper functioning Recipe Index, keep an eye out in the next week or so. -Laura

  2. Marie

    I admire the equal handed care you took to lend personality to a presumptuous store front and an unassuming baking dish, all while measuring the weight of memories and the effort of coordinating the spaces of living. Beautifully crafted.

  3. candidkay

    I have a few mixing bowls that run along the same vein. Have had them forever but they’re just right–the heft in my hand, the shape, the worn look. Funny–I reorganize the kitchen when things get out of hand too. But usually, when life gets out of hand:). Something calming about organized cupboards . . .

  4. Rae

    One time I let my husband start organizing the kitchen after we moved. Later, I found a frying pan taking up an entire drawer.

    Also, your recipe looks delicious.

  5. Katie Fresh

    My pans and platters also make a mockery of any attempt to arrange them neatly! Loved the story of the dish, its photo and your relationship with it! Also noticed the Tuscan olive oil in your photo – I have an empty bottle of Tuscan olive oil on my kitchen counter that I can’t bear to part with because I got it in Tuscany and it was the most divine olive oil ever. Talk about having too much stuff! Anyway, I really enjoyed your post!

    1. Laura Washburn Post author

      A fellow memory hoarder! The other little bottle is ancient walnut oil from the market in Bergerac which I keep because it is beautiful, even though the oil has long since gone off.

  6. explorvistas

    When we retired this year, we downsized from a 3000 square foot home to a 300 square foot RV. That was an interesting purging process, as we had hundreds of decisions to make. We would have made room for the baking dish. 🙂

  7. west Coast Personal Chef Service

    Im going to give the recipe a try it sounds really good. I know what its like to move things around in the kitchen always so much fun. I have a few kitchen things i just cant get rid of i just love them so much

  8. Home That We Built

    Laura, you touched my painful nerve. I am a memory hoarder, memories usually take shape of a plate, a statue, an ancient music box, cutting board and even a garlic-smasher. 3 years ago I moved to the US, leaving most behind. But the blow I have not completely recovered from was that my relatives sold the house I was born and brought up in, with everything so precious for me lost, given away or sold… Your dish made me feel warm inside, as if a precious piece of my memory was returned to me. Thank you for that.

  9. Alison

    The french shop sounds very much like the late lamented Grays of George Street in Edinburgh. They sold absolutely everything, in fact on edinburgh forums when someone asked “where can i buy X” the first response was always GOGS. But it was also scary. You had to ask, and I always felt like an imposter!

  10. jerseytee

    It is funny how the “things” in our lives have a life of their own. I am so glad to know I am not the only one who considers things that might be worthless to others as worthy and priceless to me. The way you express your ownership of the bowl and the emotions it encompasses is soothing, sweet and real. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Girl With A Raspberry Beret

    There are some pieces in my kitchen that are practically family members! I’m always looking to minimize cupboard clutter, whereas my daughters, who have sentimental tendencies, protest when they see any piece of kitchenware they remember from their childhood lined up for giveaway or Craigslist. I must admit I do have those moments myself. A couple of years ago, I found myself trying to find a replacement for a dinnerware I had about ten years ago! By the way, I just mentally prepared and savored your recipe! Delicious!

  12. maggiepea

    Yipee…something to inspire me in cooking and organizing! With a celiac husband to cook for, whose diet restrictions seem to be changing daily and, me, who am growing weary from a lifetime of cooking; I need something to inspire me and remind me cooking can be an art and arranging our kitchens to accommodate our needs, a very handy thing! Thanks for a great post!

  13. revdrl

    Thank you for the recipe and for the story of your dish. It resonated on a lot of levels. In this time of fast food it is a great reminder that the thought and care one puts into cooking and caring for a kitchen ARE important and valued.


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