A bitter-tasting winter salad leaf
Slim, pale, with its leaves neatly clustered, chicory—also known as endive—is a salad leaf which, for all its summery appearance, is at its best between January and mid-March. Most of the chicory sold at Turnips and Chegworth Valley is grown in Holland or northern France using a technique known as ‘blanching’, which produces a delicate, tightly-packed head with less bitterness than wild chicory.
“First the seed is sown outdoors, then in October and November you take the roots out, wash them, then replant them indoors in sandy soil, in dark rooms or cellars for another few months,” says Jean at Turnips. The darkness causes the roots to produce a bud that never fully opens, and whose leaves are tender and mild.
On the stall, the colour with which the leaves are tinted varies from pale green, to yellow, to an almost luminescent whiteness, depending on how much light they have seen: the more light, the darker the green and the more intense the flavour.
A warming dinner
To prepare your chicory, remove the outer leaves and lop off the base. After that, what you do is entirely down to whether you want to eat the leaves raw in a salad, or cooked in a warming dinner.
Borough Market demonstration chef Ursula Ferrigno is a real fan, and loves the bitter edge that chicory bring to dishes. “In Italy, we have it with walnuts, fresh tangy blood oranges and onions in a really refreshing and stimulating winter salad,” she enthuses.
“The bitterness of the chicory is balanced by the orange, so you get this sweet and sour combination which is lovely. My grandmother would always finish it off with a handful of flat leaf parsley over the top. It’s a wonderfully colourful as well as tasty salad.”
Sprinkling with cheese
Jean, on the other hand, takes an entirely different approach. He suggests boiling the chicory whole with salt and a teaspoon of sugar (“to counter the bitterness”) for five minutes, rolling it in ham, and sprinkling with cheese before grilling slightly until the cheese is browned.
While Ursula usually eats chicory raw, she has an unusual but delicious suggestion for cooking with chicory. “I would only ever chargrill it. It is a great way of cooking it. Cut it into quarters first and then place it on the grill and pour over a tangy dressing. One thing it goes very well with is a good blue cheese. If you haven’t tried this before, you must. It is lovely.”