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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.