From left: sugarloaf, Chioggia radicchio, Treviso radicchio, frisée & escarole
The Chicory Family - Asteracea Cichorium Spp.
We love the chicory family of leafy vegetables, and this is the time of year to enjoy them. They are cool-loving crops that are generally hardy to freezing temperatures and the tight-heading varieties will store in the cellar for months when handled by the touch of a skilled plantsman. We eat salads and soups of various chicories harvested in November well into the dark of winter.
Often in the U.S. the image conjured from the mention of chicory is coffee blended with toasted and ground chicory root, a tradition that remains in the South. Though chicory root is a part of the Cichorium genus, bred by the Dutch in the 18th century as a substitute to coffee, this is not the type that I write of. I refer to leafy lettuce-like chicories common in French and Italian regional menus, such as, radicchio, endive, frisée, sugarloaf & escarole.
Chicory salads are our favored item of a northern winter menu. The bitterness, balanced with a tangy vinaigrette, is tonic-like, immensely satisfying, delicious, and attractive on the plate. Chicories are the progeny of classical Greek and Roman foragers - collecting the young tender greens of various wild chicories growing in the fields of Mediterranean peninsulas and islands. Dandelion greens, a cousin of chicory, have carried the tradition of foraging bitter wild greens to the rural American diet, albeit less common now than a century past.
Chicories are a part of the Asteraceae family which includes lettuce, sunflowers, artichokes, sunchokes, dandelions, daises & cardoons. Asteraceae is a huge family of plants found all over the world and encompassing more than 20,000 species, of which only 11 are commonly used as vegetables (Seed to Seed, Ashworth 81).
At Loma Farm we are chicory evangelists, praising their misunderstood bitterness with gusto, and sharing favored recipes and techniques. Our hillside is decorated with rows of pan di zucchero (sugarloaf), radicchio, escarole, endive, and frisée. In the proceeding posts I will introduce chicory, species by species, including incantations and flowery descriptions, recipes, and fashion advice.