Chicory or Chicories refers to a group of Greens which includes Escarole, Raddichio, and Endives (as well as Dandelions), and unlike your more common Lettuce Greens , Chicories are favored for their bitter flavoring. It’s this bite that makes them a unique and sought after addition to salads, especially those with richer ingredients, like nuts, fruit, and sharp cheeses (for more culinary uses and tips, see the lower part of this article).
Chicories come in a variety of colors and textures, from the crisp green and crunchier red Radicchio’s – to the green frills of Curly Endive and their longer torpedo shaped Belgian cousins – to the light green to white lettuce-like Escaroles, your Chicory options offer a delectable hint of bitter peppery flavor along with a dash of color and unique texture. Here’s the low-down on some of our favorite varietals now available:
Castelfranco Radicchio – Is a cross between Escarole and radicchio Trevisano, and features round slightly open heads with tender pale green to creamy white leaves generously splashed with violet and burgundy. It’s delicate yet crisp and has a mellowed bitter flavor with sweet undertones, making it a great choice as a fresh green in salads.
Curly Endive – This chicory has vibrant bright green “ruffled” leaves that fan out long and lean. It has great texture and flavor, varying from its trademark bitter ruffly greens to the slightly more tender blanched hearts with their milder bite and sweet undertones. A great chicory to use for fresh eating as salad greens as its texture maintains form and holds up well to heavier dressings.
Palla Rossa Radicchio – Also referred to as Red Leaf Chicory, or Red Italian Chicory , it has round, solid, compact heads with deep-red to purple leaves. It has a bitter and spicy taste which tends to mellow after being cooked – cooking also brings out its natural sweetness. It can be used raw for salads, especially mixed with other greens (where its spice can be tempered) or cooked.
Treviso Radicchio – Also known as Rosso de Treviso, it’s a mild radicchio and forms similar to a Belgian Endive, featuring elongated leaves of reddish purple with white ribs. It provides a good mixture of both texture, with its crisp robust leaves, and earthy flavor – with its more mild pungency than most other varietals. It’s elongated shape also makes it a unique vessel for plating.
The bitterness and/or spice of chicories can be a turn-off to some people, especially if they are expecting the mild, grassy, or nutty flavor typical of Lettuce varieties – however, when combined with the right ingredients Chicories can offer a rich and sophisticated layer of flavoring not found in other Greens. When used raw, Chicories make a great addition to salads, adding not only a complex and peppered bite but a unique texture and great color to the plate as well. The sturdiness of the leaves of most varietals means they also hold up well to heavy or warm dressings, and wont typically wilt.
Chicories pair particularly well with other strong flavors, especially salty ones (as salt cuts some of the perception of bitter flavors), so think of making salads with ingredients like Bacon or Prosciutto, or adding sharper cheeses like Blue, Gorgonzola, Asiago, or Feta. Also, especially Escarole in particular, makes a great sandwich green, or try using it instead of bread as a wrap. Speaking of which, the whole fresh leaves of Palla Rossa and Treviso Radicchio, as well as Escarole and Belgian Endives can all be used as wraps or as a “cup” or “bowl” for other ingredients and dishes.
The bitter spiciness of Chicories mellows when they are cooked, transforming the flavor towards their more nutty and earthy undertones. The majority of Chicories have robust and hearty leaves, and hold up well to sauteeing, grilling, and braising – maintaining their integrity and crispness. They can also be chopped or slow cooked into soups, stews, or risottos. In Italy Radicchio is a common ingredient in risottos, as well as on its own as a side dish or appetizer, when its simply grilled and drizzled with olive oil.
Feeling ready to try some Chicory Recipes? We’ve scoured the web for some of our favorite recipes that utilize some of the pairings we mentioned along with other favorite produce ingredients. First up we’ll cover salads, then on to a few cooked Chicory entrees and side dishes:
Clockwise from upper left:
Arugula, Radicchio, and Fennel Salad:
Grilled Pear, Chicory, and Endive Salad:
Escarole and Seared Radicchio Salad w/Pecan Vinaigrette:
Shaved Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad:
Charred Escarole Salad:
Mixed Chicories with Persimmons:
Clockwise from upper left:
Oven Braised Endive with Gremolata:
Roasted Chicory with Garlic and Pine Nuts:
Grilled Chicory with Pomegranate Molasses:
Braised Chicory with Radish: