The Chicories

Chicory started out as a wild plant in the Mediterranean area. It's been cultivated and improved in Europe since the Middle Ages. (Old-time recipe books may call it "succory") All the chicories (endive, escarole, radicchio, and witloof) have a sharp, somewhat bittersweet taste that's quite unlike the more familiar iceberg lettuce. Chicory is to lettuce as radish is to apple. But there are many varieties of chicory, some with quite different appearances and flavors. The chicories can be a hot-weather substitute for head lettuce, which gets buggy and rotten and stops growing when the real hot weather comes. You can eat chicories raw in a salad or cook the greens like spinach. NOTE: Do not cook any of the chicories in an iron pan; that turns the leaves black!

names: The naming of chicories is a zoo, a joke, a mishmash, a terror—or perhaps merely an extreme confusion. The botanical family is Compositae. The genus is Cichorium (chicory). Inside that genus, there are numerous wild and domesticated species of chicory and many varieties of each of those species.

Wild Chicory. Wild chicory grows in both Europe and the United States. Ours is a sturdy weed with little blue flowers and a root system that can penetrate any soil. When the greens are young, you can gather and use them in any chicory recipe. In the fall you can dig up wild chicory roots and force them like witloofs, or store and set them out in your garden—but I'd rather use the space for a domesticated chicory. There are so many highly developed, interesting varieties.

Domesticated Chicory. The 4 main domesticated chicory species are:

1. Asparagus chicory, grown for its fleshy stalks (not described in this book).

2. Root, "coffee," or "Magdeburgh" chicory, a perennial, whose 14-16-inch roots are dried, ground, and brewed to make a popular European beverage (seeds from Redwood City; for preparation see Chapter 5).

3. The loose-headed, leafy chicories. Cichorium endivia var. crispa is curly-leaved and is called "endive" or "curly endive." The other type, Cichorium endivia var. latifolia, has broad, flat leaves and is called "escarole." "Radicchio" (pronounced "rahd-EEK-ee-o"), a group of subspecies of the escaroles, is currently very popular. In Italian, "radicchio" means chicory, any chicory. In the United States, it means either loose-headed, red-leaved (when mature) varieties or radicchios that make little round iceberg-type heads.

4. Witloof chicory (Cichorium intybus) is grown for its big roots, which are then "forced" (coaxed to grow new green tops) in winter in the dark of your basement— tops that look like white romaine and are called "chicons" or "Belgian endive" or are misnamed "endive."

This being the section on greens, it's categories 3 and 4 that are covered below. In the following information, where one type of chicory differs from the others, its particular guidelines are given under its specific plant name. Recipe ideas given below for any one chicory variety are likely to work for any other, as long as you're in the same basic chicory category of loose-headed or witloof. PLANTING: A further difficulty in classifying chicory is that a few of your plants are likely to look unlike the rest, since many of these species are not a single infallible type but grow from seed with a genetic scatter. Make sure they have enough nitrogen to grow fast, as they taste best if they go as quickly as possible from seed to maturity. Once started, chicory basically does the rest on its own, although it grows slowly compared to lettuce. Harvesting and Blanching: Pick outer leaves, leaving the inner ones to grow. Or gradually thin, using the plants you've pulled as your table greens. All the chicories are less bitter if blanched, but the bitterness is caused by their abundant vitamins. The milder they taste, the less vitamins they have. So blanching is an option, but it's not necessarily the best one. On the other hand, some gardeners are eating so many vitamins that a few less is really no great loss! And they like to set a gourmet table.

About Loose-Headed Chicories (Endive/Escarole)

Blanching. Do this when the weather is dry, the plant is dry, and you're expecting a couple weeks of dry weather. (If it rains, set the leaves free until they're dry again, and then start over; otherwise they're likely to rot.) Using both your hands, gather the outer leaves together and pull them up to cover the center. Fasten them thus with string, a large rubber band, or some such. Let blanch about 2 weeks. Best to harvest or at least check on them after that 2 weeks is up, because sometimes the covering causes plant crowns to start to rot.

Harvesting. Cut off the whole plant, within 1 or 2 inches of the root top. Hot weather tends to make endive and escarole get bitter and bolt. They store well, either in a root cellar or just in your fridge in a bag, if dried off on the outside before storing. Storage time makes their taste milder. Or leave in the garden and mulch, and they'll last like that. endive: Called "chicorée frisée" in French, it is indeed curly and frizzy; it's also low-growing. Endive is very hardy and easy to grow, although if you live in a very rainy zone, some protection from endless rain will improve your harvest. Planting. Endive can be harvested young, although it needs about 95 days to full growth. To prevent bolting, plant your spring crop as soon as your soil can be worked—around May 1—because endive is frost resistant. (See planting directions and container-growing advice under "The Lettuces." It all applies.) Most endive varieties don't do well in hot weather. If you have a relatively cool summer, you can direct-seed a crop into the garden in midsummer. Otherwise, plant your fall crop about August 1. Or get one of the varieties that cope well with hot weather and rarely bolt, such as Salad King Green Curled. Plant lA to Vi inch deep, rows 18 inches apart. Thin to a foot apart. Using. Home-grown endive usually tastes much better than the store-bought product. After the first few frosts, the taste is best of all. After harvest, store inside a plastic bag in your fridge. Endive keeps for a surprisingly long time like that, and it gets milder when stored that way. The center leaves will always be paler and milder than the outside ones. Use those center leaves in a raw salad mixed with other greens and a somewhat sweet dressing. You can use the outer ones in a recipe for cooked chicory if they're too strong for you in the salad.

& ENDIVE SALAD Slice endive lengthwise or crosswise into a salad. Some people pick off the green outer leaves and use only the light<olored, feathery leaves. I think they're all fine. Wash thoroughly and cut off discolored parts. Chill until crisp before making your salad. For a plain endive salad, serve with a French dressing and garnish with paprika and parsley (and rings of green pepper if you have it).

ENDIVE POTATO SALAD Cut 2 c. boiled potatoes into slices and marinate I hour with salt and pepper, oil, and vinegar (a vinegar and oil "dressing"). Get ready 4 hard-boiled eggs. Prepare the endive. Mix sliced, marinated potatoes and endive. Arrange the boiled eggs in quarters over the top and pour French dressing over all. escarole: Countries around the Mediterranean enjoy escarole as a cooking green. This plant has green outer leaves; the leaves grow paler (and less bitter) as you move to its center. Unlike the leaves of curly endive, these are broad and wavy. Sometimes this plant is called "broadleaf endive." There is a headed green variety called "Pain du Sucre," "Italian lettuce," or "sugar hat." About 90 days to maturity. Plant like endive.

Recipe Ideas. You can fill the center of an escarole head with a rice/meat mix and bake. Or serve Italian-style, sauteed with sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and chopped onion with spaghetti sauce poured over. Or serve Germanstyle, sauteed with chopped cabbage and sausage. Or combine with milder greens and chopped salad vegetables, cheese bits, and a vinegar/oil dressing. Or combine with crushed garlic, sliced hard-boiled eggs, and chopped tomato with a vinegar/oil dressing. Or add to a tomato-rice-chicken soup. Or wrap leaves around meat or fish and bake. Or serve with a hot bacon-onion "wilted lettuce" dressing. You can use a radicchio in any of these recipes, too, since radicchio is an endive variety. radicchio: Some types of radicchio are hybrid, some open-pollinated. Radicchio will grow throughout the United States. It doesn't start out red. Your little plants will look as green as lettuce all the way up until when the cold fall weather


Grow Pink Radicchio


begins. Then, finally, their leaves will change to a range of reds, from pink to dark burgundy. They don't start out with the interesting shapes you see in stores either, like the Verona radicchio that resembles a small red cabbage or the Treviso variety that looks like a head of red romaine lettuce. Recipe Ideas. Cook in chicken stock; add thick cream or cream sauce. Combine pureed chicory with cheese, egg, and broccoli, and bake. Cook together with meat, onions, and potatoes by placing a layer of chicory leaves over the rest. (For a chayote/radicchio salad recipe, see "Chayote" under "Exotic Squashes" in the "Squashes" section. See "Escarole" earlier in this section for other suitable recipes.)

<i> BROILED RADICCHIO This is a good use for slightly raggedy plants. Preheat broiler to 450°F. Heat Vi c. olive oil in a small skillet Add 2 sliced cloves garlic. Cook over low heat until garlic begins to turn color. Remove from heat and strain it Add 2 T. fresh lemon juice and a dash each of salt and pepper. Cut 2 medium heads of radicchio in half lengthwise and brush surface with olive oil mixture. Place cut side down on a hot broiling pan. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, turning once, until radicchio is dull brown and edges are slightly crisped. Transfer to plates and pour remaining oil over the top. From Lane Morgan's Winter Harvest Cookbook (Sasquatch Books, 1990).

WlTLOOF: This variety of chicory is grown for its large root. The leaves are edible, but harvesting many—or any— harms the root's growth. You want as much energy stored in that root as possible. Don't start witloof plants too early in the spring because if the plants have gone to seed before you move them to the cellar, they can't be used for "forcing" —it doesn't work. So plant in late spring or early summer. Thin to 6 inches apart. Make rows at least 2 feet apart. The plants will grow as tall as 2 to 4 feet. NOTE: Do not put raw manure in witloof's soil. It causes crooked roots.

Harvesting Roots. Dig up the roots in the fall after you've had a severe frost. They need to have been frozen to break their dormancy before being brought in. Then cut off the tops, leaving just an inch of so of stem. Pack them upright, with considerable soil still on the roots and soil between each root, in a container 17 to 21 inches deep that has holes in the bottom so surplus water can drain out. You can crowd them, and it doesn't matter how poor the soil is that they're packed in as long as it's about 10 inches deep (enough to cover them) and damp. Now spread 6 to 8 inches of sand or sawdust over the top of the root. (Sawdust is easier to clean off the chicons.) Witloof will last easily in a root cellar for a couple of months.

Growing Chicons. You "force" the witloof roots by moving them someplace 50°F or somewhat warmer (but over 60°F they have looser leaves and more bitter flavor) and beginning to water them weekly. Keep them in near-dark, as with newspapers over the box. The sprouts come at intervals, the first ones after about 20 days of moisture. When you see the tip top of the blanched, mild-flavored, crunchy, ro-maine-shaped top called a "chicon" or "Belgian endive" poke up you can harvest. Cut it off where it meets the root being careful not to cut off the bottom 1 inch of greens, the "root crown." Then leave the root in place and it will grow a second, smaller, chicon (maybe even a third). Chicons are good winter greens for either raw or cooked use, but they need to be used soon. Usually forcing is done anytime from

November to April. Spent witloof roots can be used to make chicory coffee (see Chapter 5) or fed to livestock.

Keeping and Forcing Witloof in the Garden. In a mild winter climate, you can get your chicons this way. When the first frost comes, cut off the chicory tops without injuring the crowns. Now cover with dirt so that you end up scraping a ridge about 18 inches high. Leave it like that until around late December. Then take the dirt off one end of the row and cut off the white shoots. You cover the plants back up with dirt after this harvesting and mark with a stick to show how far down the row you harvested. You can keep coming back and working your way farther down the row. Be sure and harvest fairly often because if the chicory gets ahead of you and makes it through the ground, it will get bitter. And be sure to cover it back up after you harvest; that way, when you've come to the end of the row, you can just go back and start harvesting at the first end again all winter long, because many of those roots will make a second or even a third chicon!

Belgian Endive Recipe Ideas. Dunk into veggie dip and eat raw. Or steam and serve in halves or whole with Hollandaise sauce. Or boil until tender (takes only about 8 minutes and a little water) and serve with garlic butter. Or place in a baking dish, drizzle with lemon juice, dot with an herb butter mix, and bake. Or add to any soup.

<P> COOKED CHICORY I Remove any discolored outside leaves. Cover the remaining head with boiling water and let stand for 5 minutes; then drain. Lay the head in a greased, shallow, ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze a little lemon juice in each one. Add 3A c. stock and dot each head with butter. Cover and cook with moderate heat For the last 20 minutes, remove the cover, turn the chicory over, and let it brown.

COOKED CHICORY 2 Leave stalks whole unless very large, in which case split them. Place in a frying pan and add beef or chicken stock until Vi inch deep. Salt to taste, cover, and cook gently until done. For variety you can serve it buttered or covered with white sauce.

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