Other Names: Asparagus chicory, Belgian endive, Catalan chicory, Catalogna, Catalonia, chicorée (France), dandelion chicory, French endive, witloof chicory.
General Description: Chicory (Cichorium intybus), closely related to endive, is a group of leafy vegetables in the Compositae family. Endive, chicory, and radicchio all developed from wild chicory, a common blue wildflower of Europe, western Asia, and Africa that also grows by the roadside in America. Young wild chicory was used as a vegetable in classical Greece and Rome. Chicory describes the whole family of leafy vegetables and is often used interchangeably with endive and escarole. The most common chicory is Belgian endive.
Belgian endive has an ivory-white head with pale yellow-edged, closely wrapped leaves, a mildly bitter flavor, and tender juicy texture. The complicated process of raising Belgian endive originated in France and was improved around 1850 in Belgium, which is still the major grower. In the fall, chicory plants are harvested, and their leaves are cut off and discarded. The remaining roots are replanted in deep soil or another medium in a dark cellar so that they regrow shoots of small, white leaves in a compact spear shape. This laborious planting method explains the high price of Belgian endive. Red Belgian endive may also occasionally be found.
In America, Belgian endive is raised hydroponically in darkness. Because it is sensitive to light, imported Belgian endive is packed in opaque paper, usually deep blue. A cross of Belgian endive and radicchio marketed as California red endive or Endigia resembles Belgian endive with red-edged leaves.
Catalonia, another chicory variety, is of Italian origin and quite popular there, with different cultivars that have different appearances and characteristics, including cicoria and barba di frate (monk’s beard) that may occasionally be found in the market. Its common form has long, relatively thick white stalks and narrow spiked leaves that resemble dandelion. Much of the “dandelion greens” raised in the U.S. are actually cultivated Catalonia.
Puntarelle, meaning “shoots,” have pale white ribs and long thin leaves that can be fairly smooth or deeply notched and anywhere from light to deep green in color. They are a Roman specialty now raised in the U.S.
Season: Belgian endive is in peak season from November to March but is available almost year-round when imported. Hydroponically grown endive is available from May to December. Other chicories can be found year-round.
Purchase: Select Belgian endive and other chicories with smooth white spears that are tightly closed. Smaller heads are more delicate in flavor but don’t yield as much. Select firm spears of red Belgian endive and red California endive with deep red color and no browning at the edges.
Avoid: Chicories with open, wilted, or brown-tipped leaves will be unpalatable.
Storage: All these vegetables should be stored in a plastic bag and refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Preparation: Note: Don’t cook any of these vegetables in cast iron because they have a tendency to discolor.
- Discard any discolored or extra dark leaves.
- Cut off a thin slice from the stem end.
- Using a sharp paring knife, cut out and discard a cone-shaped core about 1/2 inch deep from the stem end.
- Separate the leaves, or cut into crosswise slices.
- Wash in a large amount of cold water.
Belgian Endive and California Red Endive:
- Pull off and discard any loose outer leaves. It is not usually necessary to wash these vegetables.
- Cut away the whole leaves from the base, or cut away a cone-shaped core and then quarter or halve the heads.
Serving Suggestions: Braise whole or quartered Belgian endive spears in a mixture of butter, chicken or veal stock, white wine, and a little sugar. Add whole or sliced Belgian endive or California red endive to winter salads with walnuts, apples or pears, and blue cheese. Sauté Catalonia or puntarelle in olive oil and season with red wine vinegar, black olives, and anchovies.
Flavor Affinities: Belgian Endive: apples, cheese sauce, cream, ham, walnuts. Catalonia: anchovies, bacon, cured black olives, pancetta, red pepper flakes, sweet-and-sour sauces, vinegar.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com