cucina bene; mangia bene (chicory: a dandy addition to your diet)
I’m sure most of you are aware of the current kale ‘craze’, how it’s being touted as the new superfood. It’s true that kale is very good for you; it’s full of anti-oxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, is easy to grow and is pretty delicious. Bruce & I eat a lot of kale and I like to serve it to my clients roasted. Roasting any green gives it a deeper more earthy flavor. Combined with olive oil and lemon and you have a nice side dish.
This post, however, is not about kale or any other leafy green; it’s about chicory. What is chicory you might ask? Isn’t that the stuff you get in your coffee in New Orleans? Yes, it is….but the chicory family contains a whole host of other delicious vegetables such as Belgian Endive, Escarole, Curly Endive or Frisee, and Radicchio. Chicory is part of the dandelion family so cultivated dandelion greens fall into this category as well. Chicories are bitter greens and not really all that popular here in the USA, but in other countries around the world, bitter greens are treasured. In Greece and Italy wild bitter greens are foraged and served in many different dishes: as a filling for raviolis, cooked with pasta, stuffed into pies made with pita and feta cheese, sautéed with fava beans and olive oil, served as a topping for bruschetta, and a myriad of other ways. Chicories are believed to help with digestion of rich foods (much like leafy greens). My favorite type of chicory is radicchio. Radicchio originated in the Veneto region of Italy (where Venice is located); it is a forced vegetable, meaning that it is removed from the ground and placed in water or sand in a cool dark cellar. The lack of light inhibits chlorophyll production causing the plants to lose their green color. Belgian endive is also grown this way which is why it’s available year round. There are many types of radicchio that are grown in Italy, but alas, we rarely see them here on the west coast. The ubiquitous round cabbage-shaped head (radicchio di chiogga) is available in most well-stocked grocery stores and is pretty good. I like to marinate it in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper and then grill it until it wilts and gets a little charred. It is delicious served with pork chops, steak, duck, and albacore tuna.
Bruce likes to put radicchio in salads which makes a nice contrast in color and flavor. Here, we have a Jacques Pepin inspired chicken salad with asparagus, potatoes, and a lovely combination of greens and radicchio:
I had incredibly delicious and different varieties of radicchio when I was in Italy: a radicchio di Treviso which is really good grilled and on pizza, a radicchio di puntarelle which is really bitter, but delicious with garlic and anchovies, and my favorite: radicchio di Tardiva which looks eerily like a hand and can be very sweet. This radicchio also comes from Treviso and is used in dramatic presentations….you can see why:
Another great way to eat radicchio is in risotto which is the recipe I will leave you with. This one is a very rich and delicious dish; perfect for fall. So, the next time you feel the need for a super food, try radicchio instead of kale. Buon Appetito!
Red Risotto (serves 4-6)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, divided
2 small shallots, finely diced
1 tbs. chopped fresh thyme
4 cups thinly sliced radicchio
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 cups cooked borlotti beans (canned are fine)
1 3/4 cups dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock, simmering on stovetop
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese plus more for topping
Melt 2 tbs. butter in a saucepot over medium-heat. Add shallots and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add thyme and radicchio. Sauté until radicchio wilts, add rice and toast until slightly browned. Add wine and simmer until liquid is almost evaporated. Add chicken stock slowly with a ladle and stir the rice occasionally. Continue adding stock and stirring until rice is almost al dente and starts to become creamy. Add beans and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to pot and a little more stock if needed. The risotto should be a little soupy. Stir in the remaining butter and serve in shallow bowls with more Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Note: a little sautéed diced pancetta is also delicious in this dish. Cook it and remove prior to adding the shallot. Top the finished dish with the pancetta and cheese.