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Frisée Salad with Poached Egg, Croutons, Peas & Lemon Vinaigrette (c)2012

I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with chicories like endive, radicchio, and escarole during winter:

1.  Baked Escarole Stuffed with Breadcrumbs, Olives & Capers

This recipe from The Silver Spoon (self-professed bible on Italian cooking) smartly treats broad and sturdy escarole leaves like cabbage by stuffing and baking them in the oven. Begin by rinsing the whole head of escarole and tossing it into a hot pan with olive oil and garlic while still dripping wet. Cover the pan and let the escarole steam for a few minutes, meanwhile toast breadcrumbs and chopped garlic in oil until golden. Stir sliced green olives, capers, and parsley into the breadcrumbs and use the mixture to stuff inside the layers of escarole leaves. Place the stuffed escarole in a buttered casserole dish, top with more breadcrumbs and bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about twenty minutes. It’s a great side dish and the idea sets my mind in motion, thinking of so many delicious variations.

2.  Grilled Chicory

One of my favorite ways to cook the leaves of endive, escarole, frisée, and radicchio is to lightly char them on a hot grill. The leaves wilt and become crispy at the tips, and caramelization brings out sweet flavors in the bitter leaves. Reading Chez Panisse Vegetables, I learned to cut the heads of chicory in half or four pieces, dip them in a bowl of water to prevent burning, and baste with a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. After a few minutes on a hot grill, the chicories are tender and ready to use as a topping for pizza, stirred into pasta or risotto, or served on their own as a rustic appetizer. If you don’t have a grill, you can use David Tanis’ technique of placing the chicories on a baking sheet and cooking them on the top shelf of a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven until lightly charred.

3.  Chicory Salad

There are too many variations of chicory salad to list here, but the takeaway is that bitter, crisp chicories are best paired with rich ingredients like blue cheese, nuts, bacon, In the River Cottage Cookbook, Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall writes, “A frisée and bacon salad, with soft-boiled fresh eggs and croutons, is one of the best simple suppers I know.” A recipe for Chicory, Ricotta, and Prosciutto Salad can be found in Italian Two Easy, and I like the way ricotta is thinned with lemon juice and used to dress the leaves. A simple salad of chicories with lemon juice, good olive oil, and shaved Parmesan is also a good option. The recipe for Radicchio with Hard Boiled Eggs and Pancetta in Canal House Volume 3 is a nice play on the iceberg wedge salad. Cabbage-shaped crimson radicchio is sliced into 4 wedges, then topped with chopped hard boiled eggs, crispy fried pancetta, parsley, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

4.  Gratin

Chicories like Belgian endive are well suited to creamy gratins. The recipe for Baked Belgian Endive in The Silver Spoon involves simply quartering endives and baking them (at 350 degrees Fahrenheit) in a buttered dish with milk and vegetable stock until the liquid is mostly absorbed, about half an hour. Sprinkle over grated Parmesan during the last few minutes of cooking to form a crisp, golden brown crust. This would be a good time to add plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Martha Stewart adds ham, Gruyere, thyme, and breadcrumbs for a more hearty endive casserole. Easy and delicious!

5.  Radicchio in Risotto

You may remember thes post during risotto week where I discovered the recipe for Risotto Rosso with Red Wine, Radicchio, and Smoked Mozzarella in the book Urban Italian. The flavor of bittersweet, beautifully crimson radicchio is paired with smokey melted mozzarella and deep, fruity red wine, and earthy thyme. Or try this Risotto with Scampi and Radicchio Treviso from Saveur. This variety of radicchio looks just like Belgian endive, but with purple tips instead of light yellow. In this Venetian inspired recipe, sweet shrimp and dry white wine pair with wilted radicchio.

6.  Chicory atop Pizzas & Flatbreads

Be it raw or cooked, chicories are delicious atop baked pizzas and flatbreads. A few weeks ago I topped a hot Lebanese flatbread with spicy ground lamb and a cold winter salad of radicchio, fennel, and parsley dressed simply in lemon juice. In the comments yesterday, Kelsey from the Happyolks blog shared her love of pizza with radicchio and honey, which I bet would be delicious with herbs like thyme or rosemary. In this recipe at Martha, sliced escarole leaves sautéed with anchovies, black olives, capers, and crushed red pepper flakes serves as a topping for a white pizza garnished with Parmesan.

7.  Belgian Endive Boats

The canoe-like shape of Belgian endive leaves is perfect for housing delicious dips and spreads as an appetizer. Try hummus, crab salad, or goat cheese and herbs for a starter to the main meal. I love the flavors in this recipe for Golden Beet and Endive Salad from Food & Wine Magazine: roasted diced beets, walnut oil, shallot, and goat brie. This Lemony Smoked Trout Salad in Red Endive Scoops seems elegant and bright, perfect for early spring.

8.  Bread Pudding

I came across the recipe for Savory Bread Pudding in the ‘Days-Old Bread’ section of Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book. Rich, comforting, and deeply satisfying in these last cold days of winter, Savory Bread Pudding is easily thrown together and bakes in the oven for about 50 minutes. Leeks are sautéed in butter, then simmered in white wine. Mushrooms caramelize in a hot pan, and radicchio Treviso leaves go in to gently wilt at the last minute. It all gets tossed into a large baking dish with chunks of day old bread. A custard of eggs, cream, and milk flavored with pepper, nutmeg, thyme, Gruyere, and smoked ham is poured over the bread and your work is done. Pour a glass of wine and wait for the heavenly smell of bubbling cheese to fill the kitchen.

9.  Pasta

Chicories are delicious stirred into pasta at the very last minute, leaves melting into the sauce while retaining a bit of toothsome texture. Bitter flavors of these leaves play well with creamy cheeses, salty pancetta, and earthy mushrooms. The Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone Cookbook includes a recipe for Taglerini with Mussels, Radicchio & Anchovy Cream that’s ready in minutes with hours worth of flavor. Shallots are sautéed in butter, then sliced radicchio is tossed in, juice from the steamed mussels, heavy cream, and an anchovy/garlic paste. Once the sauce is thick and infused with flavor, the cooked taglerini (ribbon-shaped pasta) are added to the pot. The book also contains a recipe for Radicchio, Pancetta & Buckwheat Noodles flavored with a splash of red wine vinegar, garnished with bread crumbs and cheese. I like lemony penne pasta with wilted endive and peas, maybe topped with a poached egg.

10.  Escarole and Cannellini Bean Soup

I love the simplicity of the Frankies Spuntino style cooking, and their Escarole and Cannellini Bean soup perfectly embodies comforting home cooking. They write, “Everybody’s grandma made this fixture of the southern Italian immigrant’s kitchen.” It begins with a sauté of the holy trinity: diced onion, celery, and carrot. Dried (soaked) white beans, red pepper flakes, vegetable broth, and bay leaf go into the pot and it’s set to simmer for a couple of hours until the beans are tender. The escarole is prepared separately, chopped and sautéed in olive oil with garlic, then tossed in with the cooked beans. The Frankies love this soup hot or cold, with a handful of Pecorino Romano.

What is your favorite way to cook with chicories? Share it in the comments section. Click Here.