Now now! Cichorium intybus is neither a swear word nor some Latin formula, nor yet a spell appertaining to a mystery school Magick. It is a plant food, which goes by the name of “cicoria” in Italian, that is bought at the market and washed and boiled and drained and then eaten at table. Try as I might, I cannot come to a satisfactory translation for Cicoria in English. The word “chicory” just won’t do …
Read for yourselves :
Quote from Wikipedia: Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a bushy perennial herbaceous plant with blue, lavender, or occasionally white flowers. Various varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or for roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. It is also grown as a forage crop for livestock. It lives as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe, and in North America and Australia, where it has become naturalized. “Chicory” is also the common name in the US (and in French) for curly endive (Cichorium endivia); these two closely related species are often confused. End of quote
I don’t know about others, but I am Totally confused – it doesn’t sound like “cicoria” at all! And the following is only a little more enlightening – again quoting from Wikipedia on Wild Chicory this time:
Wild chicory leaves are usually bitter. Their bitterness is appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Liguria and Puglia regions of Italy and also in Catalonia, in Greece and in Turkey. In Ligurian cuisine the wild chicory leaves are an ingredient of preboggion and in Greek cuisine of horta; in the Puglian region wild chicory leaves are combined with fava bean puree in the traditional local dish Fave e Cicorie Selvatiche. End of quote.
And in Rome, hark hark you Wikipedia people, cicoria is eaten all the time when it is in season. It’s one of those vegetables that are “good for you” (all vegetables are, but these are even more so if you know what I mean). Cicoria leaves do indeed err on the bitter side so the answer to that is to put the cooked cicoria leaves into a basin with plenty of cold water so that the bitterness gets dilutd and becomes manageable.
We live in an age where we prefer to steam vegetables or cook them until they are still crisp as opposed to overcooked until they become an palatable mush. With cicoria, however, there is no eating it raw and no undercooking it … it really does have to be boiled for a good 15 minutes. And, as with any other green vegetables that need to be boiled before eating (e.g. broccoletti or swiss chard), the water needs to salted and a lid must never be placed over the pot for some weird chemical reason that I fail to remember just now.
There follows a series of photos illustrating the cooking process for cicoria … it’s really very simple but if you are anything like me, it is difficult sometimes to get the hang of a recipe unless one can “see” it.
This gadget is brilliant for draining pasta or vegetables without steaming yourself to death … do invest in one if you can. I don’t know what they are called, they look like a mini version of some weird lacrosse stick. Whatever.
Use this “lacrosse stick sieve” to remove the cicoria from the hot water and plop it into the basin with the cold water. Add more cold water and let it stand until the cicoria has cooled down.
Squeeze as much water out of the cicoria as you can (this is very good for strengthening the muscles of your hand) …
I have a big confession to make. I know I like to have a dig at my Canadian friend who browbeats some of her guests into stirring a risotto to keep them out of her way in the kitchen but I have to come clean too and mention the fact that trimming, washing and preparing cicoria is a tad tedious and that, for this reason, I have often taken advantage of my mother-in-law coming over for supper in the past to buy cicoria that very day and get her to do all this boring stuff. The good thing about a ball of cicoria is that it will keep in the fridge for a good five days and that you can freeze it too. So it’s always a good idea to make plenty of it when you do decide to make cicoria.
Okay … now that it’s ready : what do you DO with cicoria?
Well, it can be eaten as it is with a dousing of lovely extra virgin olive oil over it, a splash of lemon and some salt and pepper.
Or it can be cooked up in a frying pan with garlic and chilli flakes and this is known as “Cicoria Ripassata in Padella” — cicoria recooked in a pan. One can also add a few tomatoes.
Here is the cicoria ripassata on a serving plate, side by side with some thinkly sliced sautéed courgettes/zucchine. Two very nice “contorni” (side plates) that are very good for you as well as satisfying to eat.