The chicories are comprised of a group of wide and varied leafy vegetables and are loved for their bitterness. They can be loose-leafed or tight-headed with tapered, round, smooth or frilled leaves and come in a range of wonderful colours from white to through to bright green and dark maroon.
Their bitterness teams well with a wide range of other foods to make interesting dishes with complex flavours.
Most members of the chicory family can be eaten either raw or cooked. Inner leaves which have not been exposed to sunlight are usually milder and cooking tends to temper the bitterness. If trying for the first time you might like to sauté as in the recipe for Duck Breasts with Balsamic & Honey Sautéed Radicchio – see below.
Frisée: This variety has a small head with narrow, frilly leaves and is often found in salad mixes. The centre leaves are particular prized for salad mixes as they tend to be blanched and have a mild flavour.
Escarole: Also has curly leaves, which are broader than those of curly endive and in terms of taste is mildest member of the chicory family. The head can vary in size from quite small to reasonably large. Can be cooked or eaten raw and is frequently used in salads.
Radicchio: At the Chef’s Garden we grow number of different varieties of radicchio including – Treviso (large loose-leaved plant with maroon leaves), Bel Fiore (meaning ‘beautiful flower’ in Italian, this variety has pale green leaves spotted with red or pink splashes), Palla Rossa (compact head with white-veined maroon leaves) and a white variety (large leaved with pale green outer leaves and almost white centre leaves).
Puntarelle (Italian Dandelion): Although not a true dandelion, the leaves are somewhat similar, but are larger and a darker green and the plant has an upright habit. In Italy there are several different varieties of puntarelle.
Availability: Generally considered to be a cool weather vegetable at The Chef’s Garden @ Epicurean we grow a wide range of chicories including some which have been developed to enjoy warmer weather. We usually have at least one or two varieties available.
Goes with: acid ingredients such as lemon juice and vinegar; anchovies; apples; bacon; broad beans; capers; cheese – particularly those with a bite or sharpness; chicken; ham; nuts; oranges; smoked salmon; and walnuts.
SELECTION, STORAGE, PREPARATION & USING
Selection: As with all leafy vegetables the leaves should be crisp and unblemished.
- Frisée: Look for crisp peaky, unblemished leaves.
- Escarole: Choose firmly packed heads with unblemished leaves
- Radicchio: Look for crisp leaves and no brown spots.
Storage: Most members of the chicory family keep well – simply place in a sealed plastic bag and store in the refrigerator.
Preparation: In most cases it is as simple as separating and washing the leaves. In some cases tough leaf bases may need to trimmed.
Using: Members of the chicory family can be can be eaten raw or cooked and are often found in salads and salad mixes.
- Barbecued Chicory: One of the most delicious ways to enjoy the chicories is barbecued. If small they can be left whole, otherwise, half or quarter lengthwise. Place prepared chicory in a large bowl of cold water for a few minutes, then drain in a colander. Meanwhile, make a baste by whisking together ½ cup balsamic vinegar and ¼ cup olive oil with 1 crushed garlic clove.
Brush prepared chicory pieces with baste and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on a preheated barbecue and cook, brushing frequently with baste and turning for 15-25 minutes or until chicory is lightly charred and crisp on the outside and completely cooked through and soft in the centre. Serve as an accompaniment to barbecued meat, on pizza or alongside other barbecued vegetables.
- Wilted Escarole: Wash, trim and cut escarole leaves into wide strips. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a good drizzle of olive oil and swirl to coat base of pan. Add escarole, cover and cook, tossing once or twice for 3-4 minutes or until wilted. Season with a good grind of sea salt and black pepper and a splash of wine vinegar.
- Roasted Radicchio: Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut 2 heads of radicchio, lengthwise into quarters and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with a good grind of sea salt and black pepper. Toss to coat and roast, turning once or twice for 15-20 minutes or until radicchio is wilted and slightly charred. Serve drizzled with balsamic vinegar and scattered with shaved Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.
Recipes using some of the Chicories