I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s introduction for a chicory salad in his book, Plenty:
“I don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day. This is due to cowardly cynicism, combined with a firm belief that you can not just create a momentous intimate occasion, especially when millions of other couples are trying to do exactly the same…But if you twisted my arm…I guess I would choose this salad to celebrate the day, representing the more realistic flavors of love: bitter and sweet.”
The bitter crunch of chicory, coupled with its smooth, almost velvety, butter head lettuce-like texture, quells my winter longing for crisp salad greens. Like many bitter-flavored leaves, chicories benefit from the cold winter months, which tend to sweeten their gusto.
The bitterness can range from very mild, in the case of Belgian Endive, to quite pungent. A helpful tip for relieving especially sharp chicories from excessive bitterness is to soak the de-headed leaves (broken or cut-up if they are large) in very cold or lightly iced water for 30 minutes to an hour. If the leaves are especially bitter, change the water after 30 minutes, then allow them to soak for an additional length of time.
Some of the sweetest, crispest, most full-flavored, wonderfully textured chicories (I’m gushing, but with good reason!) can be found at Ayers Creek Farm, an Oregon Tilth certified organic farm in Gaston, Oregon. We are coming up on another bi-weekly winter Hillsdale Farmers Market, and I am looking forward to procuring more of their gem-like lettuces.
At the last market, so stunned by the beauty of the Ayers Creek chicories; magenta rounded radicchio, whimsically speckled castelfranco, and a smooth pale yellow-green, elongated variety, whose name I know not (a good question this week for the farmers), I inquired of Carol Boutard, one of the proprietor pair of the farm, “These are stunning! Does one eat them or wear them?” She smiled, and without missing a beat replied, “On your lapel!”
2 small chicories
1/4 medium red onion
8-10 Castelvetrano olives
blood orange slices from 1 orange
1 page tangerine, segmented (or substitute another seasonal, flavorful tangerine)
vinaigrette: whisk together 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, 3 Tbsp. blood orange olive oil or substitute good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the chicories by removing the leaves from the heads, gently tearing them if they are large, and soaking in very cold water for 30 minutes. Thinly slice the red onion, and in a separate bowl, soak the slices in very cold water for 30 minutes (this mellows the sharp raw onion’s bite). Drain and spin dry the lettuce. Drain the red onion.
Meanwhile, pit the olives. I use the side of my knife or a little ramekin to press down, gently but firmly, on the olive. This breaks open the olive and makes the pit very easy to remove. Be careful not to smash the olive in the process or you will have mush rather than olive meat.
Place the chicory, blood orange slices, tangerine segments, olives, and onion in a salad bowl. Add an appropriate amount of vinaigrette and toss. Adjust seasonings with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Serve forth.
I didn’t really do anything earth-shattering here – I just used the best ingredients I could find (at the Farmers Market, of course) to spruce up an old classic. But what I did discover is that the bitter-crisp chicory added a whole new dimension of flavor, contrasting and combining particularly well with the rich chicken, blue cheese, bacon, avocado, and egg.
chicory (Ayers Creek)
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar, or 1/3 part balsamic vinegar combined with 2/3 parts red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
chicken (Pasture-raised from Pine Mountain Ranch) – pan-seared, roasted, or grilled
bacon (Sweet Briar Farm) – crisped
blue cheese (Jacobs Creamery blue or Rogue Creamery “Caveman Blue”)
farm eggs (Greenville Farms) – boiled, and deviled if desired
Trim the chicory, cut it in wedges, and soak it in ice cold water for 30 minutes. Drain and spin dry. Dress the lettuce with the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Crumble blue cheese over the lettuce. Garnish the salad with the remaining ingredients.
For the fondue:
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup crisp white wine
4 oz. blue cheese (I used Caveman Blue by Rogue Creamery – it was perfectly suited)
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. sherry
freshly ground black pepper
Rub a heavy small saucepan with the garlic clove. Add the wine to the pan and bring it to just below the boiling point (do not allow the wine to boil).
Add the cheese to the hot wine, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the cheese is creamy and barely simmering, add the sherry blended with the cornstarch (if you mix the sherry and cornstarch together ahead of time, stir it once again before adding it to the pot, as the liquid will separate from the cornstarch as it sits). Stir until the mixture thickens and just begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and season with pepper.
Caesar-style Chicory Salad
adapted from Lori di Mori
2 large heads radicchio, or a mix of chicories
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. white wine
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
4 or 5 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 egg yolks
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups focaccia cubes (3/4 inch), or substitute other open-textured rustic bread
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese
Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic with the salt. Put the mashed garlic in the bowl of a food processor along with vinegar, white wine, mayonnaise, anchovies, and egg yolks. Begin processing, then drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the croutons, bake the bread cubes in a 375 degree F oven until they are dry and toasted, about 10-15 minutes. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the herbs and stir until fragrant. Add the toasted bread and season with salt. Gently toss to combine and remove from heat. Allow the croutons to cool.
Place the radicchio in a large bowl. Toss with enough of the dressing to generously coat, then mix in the croutons. Top with the grated cheese.
Chicory Leaves with Tuna Tartare
Ayers Creek Farmer Anthony Boutard had the wonderful suggestion of spooning tuna tartare into chicory leaves. I like to combine raw chopped tuna with salt, pepper, a bit of minced chive or shallot (if you squeeze the minced shallot in a kitchen towel, it will remove much of the sharp-flavored juices), and a little mustard oil (found in Asian groceries). Or you could season your tartare with lemon and a bit of grated horseradish. Or for a more elaborate recipe, here is one from Chef Eric Ripert.
Of course, there are wonderful recipes for cooked chicory as well. The dense heads grill beautifully. Or just lightly sauté chopped chicory with good olive oil, garlic, and perhaps a little chopped hot chile (I use chopped Ayers Creek dried Aci Sivri chiles in place of hot pepper flake in recipes – the flavor is fresh and distinctive). A sauce of pancetta, radicchio, and cream makes for an indulgent pasta sauce. Chicory soup with pork rinds is a typical dish of Salento, Italy, served primarily at farmhouses of the region.
…But we’ll save these for a later post on cooking chicories – stay tuned!