In Praise of Chicories

Palla Rosso Radicchio

Palla Rosso Radicchio

You know you you’re a vegetable nerd when you want to start a fan club for chicories.  So be it.  Over the past couple of years we have been growing more varieties of greens in the chicory family and they keep impressing us.  Chicories tend to be a little bitter, so they are not real popular with the American public.  Radicchio, Endive, Frisee and the like are often viewed as gourmet fancy stuff.  Whereas in Europe a wide variety of chicories are eaten and grown by the average gardener.  We like chicories for several reasons; they don’t seem to have many pests, they hold for a very long time in the field and in the fridge, and they add some variety in flavor and texture to salads.  Chicories that form tight heads, such as radicchio and sugarloaf chicories make excellent salad alternatives in the fall and winter months.  We have had sugarloaf chicories in our fridge until March.  If you do keep them in your fridge for that long you should expect that the outer leaves will turn to schmegma and will need to be peeled off, but the centers will still be fine.  We like to chop the leaves finely to make a salad, the slightly bitter flavor is complemented by sweet additions such as apples, pears, roasted winter squash, fennel, or beets.

This year we also grew Italian Dandelion, Escarole and Belgian Endive.  Italian Dandelion looks and tastes very similar to our common lawn weed but is really a chicory and grows much bigger.  We tried transplanting it on 1 foot centers and found that it could be picked and bunched for cut and come again greens for at least a month.  The Escarole has a more open lettuce look, with sturdier leaves.  Both of these greens can be added to salads or cooked with.  They are commonly added to soups or pasta dishes.

Sugarloaf Chicories, the variety is Zuckerhut from Turtle Tree Seeds

Sugarloaf Chicories, the variety is Zuckerhut from Turtle Tree Seeds        

 

 

 

Italian Dandelion

Italian Dandelion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Escarole (variety Eros) next to Sugarloaf Chicory

Escarole (variety Eros) next to Sugarloaf Chicory

 

The blue flowers of chicory.  In our forest garden we have intentionally let several kinds of chicories go to seed.  We are trying to naturalize a mixed population of chicories to come up on their own year after year for early spring greens.  Chicory roots (usually from the wild plants) can also be dug and roasted for a coffee substitute.  We plan on trying this with some of the cultivated varieties as well after their leafy heads are harvested.

The blue flowers of chicory. In our forest garden we have intentionally let several kinds of chicories go to seed. We are trying to naturalize a mixed population of chicories to come up on their own year after year for early spring greens. Chicory roots (usually from the wild plants) can also be dug and roasted for a coffee substitute. We plan on trying this with some of the cultivated varieties as well after their leafy heads are harvested.

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