I just fell in love with chicory. It seems odd to say it, I know, and I’m sure I just planted disgust in the heart of most of those who would read this, but the thing is, after wrestling with this odd green for the past few summers, I finally found one of those blessed New Southern ways of preparing it. Please trust me.
The silence was deafening on the subject of the Boiled Kale on Toast with Fried Egg, and oh, what a loss. And if you didn’t believe me on that one, when I was backed up by The Zuni Cafe, Orangette, and Bitten, then I suppose this chicory recipe will require even more suspension of disbelief.
Chicory is a strange thing. It looks like lettuce, has a strangely bitter, almost astringent quality to it, and comes replete with all manner of preconceived notions. And then there is the small matter of it’s name. Two of its varieties, radicchio and endive, at least sound edible, but 'chicory' itself? Ugh.
In previous years, when it showed up in my CSA box, I tried to hide it in salads, mixed in with other, sweeter lettuces, but it took work. Like capital ‘W’ Work. Eventually, I found my way with it. Tossed with a sweet fresh-picked carrots, a fruity homemade blackberry vinaigrette, and tart crumbles of feta cheese, it actually made for a reasonably nice, if ever-so-slightly-too-gourmet-ish, salad.
Then last week, I found myself bogged down under a ginormous bag of the leaves, and I stared askance at it for a few days, unable to bring myself to chunk it into the compost, but not quite ready to drown it in dressing either. Finally, with a handful of sorrel in one hand and the bag of chicory in the other, I sat down at the computer to do some recipe searches. And, people, I struck gold. Bright, shiny, valuable gold.
The sorrel ended up in an omelet with wondrous flavor, and I chopped up a handful or two of the chicory, wilted it in a hot pan with a little olive oil, and tossed it into one of my Any Vegetable Frittatas, but the real star, the true gem, was a recipe I found for Risotto with Chicory.
I know how that sounds. Honest, I had to suspend my own disbelief while stirring the mad concoction, and then, oh, the horror I felt when I stared at the mountainous pile of greens shredded into cole-slaw-looking ribbons. But I forged on. I did, after all, have to do something with all this chicory.
The results were phenomenal. The risotto was everything it should be, rich and luscious, decadent in it’s texture and creamy-chewy on the tongue. And the flavor of the chicory itself? I’m sure I can’t describe it. The flavors melded so well that the chicory flavor didn’t even bother to try and have a flavor of it’s own, there was just the slight earthiness it imparted to the rice, tempered and made more elegant by the Parmesan, the white wine, and the butter.
I imagine Edna Lewis would have approved of this treatment, but shockingly, my picky five-year-old son and even the conservative, meat-eating husband devoured it (the 20-month-old loved it as well, but she’ll eat anything).
I’ve made my share of risottos, and this one is my new hands-down favorite. Now if only I could figure out where to purchase chicory all year-round...
CHICORY RISOTTO (serves 4 to 6 as a side dish, adapted from Cook It Simply)
Note: Risotto is best served immediately, and will turn a little gummy when stored. To reheat, add a tiny bit of broth and bring to simmer on the stove, stirring constantly, adding more broth as needed.
- 44 oz vegetable broth
- 3 oz butter, divided
- 1 small white onion, finely chopped
- 7 oz chicory (red or white), shredded into a chiffonade (ribbons)
- 11 oz arborio rice
- 4 oz white wine
- 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper, to taste
- In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer.
- In a wide saucepan (I love to use an enameled cast iron pan for risottos), melt 2 oz of the butter over medium heat.
- Add onion to pan, and saute gently over medium-low heat until translucent, taking care not to brown the onion.
- Add the chicory and stir until wilted.
- Add the rice and cook, stirring, until well coated.
- Stir in wine, and cook for one minute.
- Pour in 1 cup of hot broth and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Continue adding broth, 1 cup at a time, to the pan, stirring often, until rice is al dente (should take about 15 minutes). There will probably still be 1/2 to 1 cup of the broth left over in the broth pan.
- When rice is tender, remove pan from heat, and stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan. The final dish should not be soupy, but should have enough broth left in the risotto to allow it to be a little runny. If finished risotto is too clumpy, add broth by the 1/4-cup to achieve desired texture.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.