Chilling with Chicory

Chicory is the cool kid on the winter salad block. It belongs to a ravishing and rewarding family of overwintering plants, and it can be found in many shapes, sizes and colours. Radicchio is chicory; so are curly endive, frisée, escarole and catalogna (aka puntarelle). Even dandelions come from the same stock.

Sown in the autumn, chicories go right through winter. When left to brave the elements outdoors, they develop a wonderful intensity of colour depending on the variety – like the ones pictured above. If, on the other hand, the plants are dug up at the beginning of winter, the leaves are cut back to the bone, the roots replanted indoors and grown beneath the soil without exposure to light, they develop heads of tightly packed, ivory-white leaves fringed with greenish-yellow. This practice, known as blanching, was discovered by accident in the 1850s in Belgium – which explains why the plant is known in some parts as Belgian endive.

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Bitterness is one of the hallmarks of the chicory family. I reckon it’s just what the body needs in these winter months, providing a welcome fillip in the midst of all those rich, stodgy foods and creamy sauces. Mostly we meet the chicory family in salads, where that bitter touch can be beautifully offset with a sweetish dressing – Balsamic or blood orange juice are both fine additions to regular vinaigrette, or use them to deglaze the pan after flash-frying cubes of fish or shellfish to toss over your salad. A generous platter of multicolored chicories interspersed with slivers of apple, pear or kumquats or a scattering of pomegranate seeds is a treat for all the senses. And don’t forget that this robust vegetable takes kindly to a bit of a roasting. This mellows it beautifully, particularly when finished with a good dollop of cream and grated cheese (think pecorino or Parmesan).

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Winter warm salad of chicory and lamb’s lettuce with scallops, shrimp and/or red mullet

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Serves 2
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine or cider vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and pepper
A pinch of sugar
8 ounces red mullet filets OR 8 scallops OR 8 ounces peeled, raw shrimp
A handful of winter salad leaves (lamb’s lettuce, baby dandelion leaves)
2 Belgian endives (ideally, 1 white and 1 red)
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 2 blood oranges
Sprigs of fresh herbs (chervil, chives, dill) or sprouted seeds (cress)

  • For the vinaigrette, whisk together the oil, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt, pepper and sugar in a small bowl or jar. Set aside.
  • Trim the red mullet filets and remove any bones with tweezers. Slice them on a slant to give lozenge-shaped pieces. If using scallops, separate the meat from the corals and peel away the muscle band that attached it to the shell (if this has not been done for you). If using the corals (as is customary in Europe), prick these with a pin so they don’t explode on frying. Wash fish and shellfish and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Trim the root ends from the endives and separate the leaves. Arrange leaves in a star shape in soup bowls, alternating the colors.
  • Finely slice any trimmings from the endives and pile these up with the lamb’s lettuce and dandelions in the center. Sprinkle on the vinaigrette.
  • Shortly before serving, put a handful of flour in a plastic bag, add salt and pepper, put in the shellfish or fish and shake to dust lightly in flour. Tip into a colander and shake off any excess flour. Don’t do this too far ahead, or the shellfish/fish will absorb the flour and make a gluey mess.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan, toss in the shellfish or fish and fry very briefly – 1-2 minutes – turning once. Arrange over the salads.
  • Tip the blood orange juice into the pan with 1 tablespoon oil, turn up the heat and let it bubble up to thicken and reduce, scraping up any nice fishy bits.
  • Spoon the reduced blood orange dressing over the salads, sprinkle with fresh herbs or sprouted seeds of your choice and serve at once with crusty bread.

 

Salad of Belgian endive, radicchio, lamb’s lettuce, kumquats and avocado

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Serves 6
½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon coarse-grain mustard
2 tablespoons walnut vinegar
6 tablespoons walnut oil
A pinch of sugar
200g mixed salad leaves (lamb’s lettuce, rucola, baby dandelion leaves)
2 heads Belgian endive
1 small radicchio
6 kumquats
1 avocado
A handful of walnuts
Sprigs of dill

  • For the dressing, place the salt, pepper, mustard, walnut vinegar, walnut oil and sugar in a jam jar, cover with a lid and shake vigorously till smooth and emulsified.
  • Wash and spin dry the salad leaves.
  • Remove outer leaves of Belgian endive and slice very thinly lengthwise.
  • Shred the radicchio finely.
  • Wash the kumquats and slice them wafer-thin.
  • Peel and pit the avocado and cut in segments.
  • Arrange the sliced chicory, salad leaves and shredded radicchio decoratively on a large serving plate, add finely sliced kumquats and avocado segments, scatter walnuts and dill on top and spoon the dressing over.

 

Gratin of Belgian endive with walnut and Parmesan crumble and Ibérico ham

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Serves 2
25g butter
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 Belgian endives, white or red, halved lengthwise
1 thick slice country or sourdough bread, crusts removed, cut in cubes
2 tablespoons walnuts
25g grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoons Greek yogurt + 2-3 tablespoons milk
75g Ibérico or other cured ham, sliced
Optional: flat-leaf parsley, chopped

  • Melt the butter with the sugar in a heavy frying pan or sauté pan – if you have one that will go in the oven, so much the better.
  • Fry the endives, face down first, then the other sides, until golden brown and a little softened.
  • Place the bread cubes, walnuts, grated Parmesan, thyme and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor and process to crumbs. Stir in the yogurt and enough milk to give a porridge-like consistency.
  • Spread this mixture over the endives (refrigerate if not baking immediately)
  • Heat the oven to 200C/400F and bake the endives for about 15 minutes or until tender when poked with a skewer and the topping is bubbly.
  • Lay the ham on top – it will subside agreeably into the hot endives and the warmth will release some of its cured flavor without cooking it.
  • Sprinkle with parsley if wished, and serve warm.

These recipes were published originally on www.zesterdaily.com

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