Ingredient of the Week: Chicory

Chicory (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

As the month of February comes to an end, my heart dares to hope that spring is on its way. The weather here in Colorado is characteristically unpredictable -one day warm and sunny, only to surprise us with a foot of snow the very next morning. March blows in like a lion, tearing through the foothills with 80 mile per hour winds that shake our walls and rattle the windows. It’s unsettling, at the very least. Our snowiest month of the year is a time when those living in temperate zones plant their spring gardens. The Colorado gardener must either be patient or lucky: wait until April to plant seedlings, when the threat of snow has passed, or put the fragile seedlings out early and get a head start on a short growing season. A late snow could spell catastrophe. Complaints from a southern transplant like me get no sympathy, “That’s Colorado,” the natives say.

For now, my garden is just a dream, but one ingredient starts to pop up in the grocery store more often, a sign that winter is ending, and the earliest days of spring have arrived. Chicory, in its many varieties, is enthusiastically welcomed in my kitchen this time of year for its brilliant colors, crisp texture, and pleasantly sharp flavor. I can’t describe it any better than the way Alice Waters does in Chez Panisse Vegetables:

Whereas lettuces are generally prized for a certain delicacy of flavor and texture, the chicories are valued for a certain wild bitterness, common to them all.

Chicories have sturdy leaves, crisp and delicious in salads, but sturdy enough to stand a long braise or caramelization on a hot grill. This week at la Domestique, we’ll explore the many ways to cook with chicories: tossed into salads, stirred into soups, bathed in cream, tossed atop pizza, sautéed in a skillet, and more. These bitter leafy vegetables are all part of the daisy family. Their flavor is an asset when balanced with rich flavors like eggs, nuts, pungent cheeses, duck, lamb, smoked fish, salty anchovies, acidic lemon, or aged balsamic vinegar. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday at la Domestique, where you’ll find creative ideas for cooking with chicories during winter.Seek out the different types of chicory and incorporate them into your late winter pantry:

Belgian Endive

A compact head of elongated, tulip-shaped white leaves with pale green tips.

Curly Endive, also called Frisée

Large and curly head of thin, spindly leaves. White in the center, graduating to green at the tips.

Escarole

A plentiful head of broad, curvy green leaves, similar to romaine but more toothsome.

Radicchio

There are several varieties of radicchio, all named after towns in the Veneto region of Italy, where they were originally cultivated.

Treviso is shaped like Belgian endive with elongated burgundy-hued leaves and white ribs.

Castelfranco is rose-shaped, loose-leafed head that is pale-green and speckled red.

Chioggia looks like a small cabbage, tight leaves in the typical shade of burgundy with white veins.

Verona is petit, fitting easily in the palm of your hand, loosely gathered leaves in shades of dark green and maroon.

What is your favorite variety of chicory? Share it in the comments section. Click Here.

 

11 Comments

  1. There are few foods that I don’t care for, and alas, this family of bitter lettuces is one of them. As much as the sophisticated side in me wants to enjoy the frisee in my salad, I always end up picking it out. But maybe I’ll try one of your recipes and try to get my tastebuds to change their mind! Perhaps enjoying it cooked will be the answer…

    Reply
    • Anna,
      I’m glad you’re open to keep trying, and you may just find a recipe that you like. :)

      Reply
  2. I’m a radicchio fan, myself. We did a lot of radicchio pizzas last year with honey, sorta became an addiction!

    Reply
    • Kels, that sounds so good! I’m thing thyme or rosemary would be great with those flavors.

      Reply
  3. I’m not sure if I’ve had chicory, but I am very much looking forward to your ideas on how to prepare it. I’ve had grilled salads before and I love the concept. By the way, I wanted to mention that I run into your comments a lot around the internet and they are always so articulate and add positively to the conversation. Love that :)

    Reply
    • Nicole,
      I appreciate your kind words, and greatly value the friendships built in online communities. As for chicory, you should be able to locate Belgian endive or radicchio in your local supermarket, and I can’t wait to hear how you like it!

      Reply
      • Now that you mention it, I think I’ve had frisee and radicchio in restaurant salads, but have never purchased them myself. I think I need to change that!

        Reply
  4. Cheryl Sternman Rule (of 5secondrule) contributed an endive salad with pear and halloumi cheese to my blog, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised! I didn’t think I liked endive but it really does add a nice crisp bite. Looking forward to seeing some new ways to incorporate it — you always have such great ideas :)

    Reply
    • Salad is just the beginning, Kathryn! Thanks for your sweet comment, I can’t wait for you to see 10 Ways Tuesday. Though chicories are tasty raw, I also love the depth of their flavor when cooked.

      Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by, Cristina!

      Reply

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