Radicchio, endive, frisee and escarole are members of the chicory clan and all have the reputation of being bitter, sometimes not in a good way. Until fairly recently, I avoided these bitter greens not out of dislike, but out of lack of familiarity. As with any relationship, balance is the best way to go. Instead of letting bitterness dominate the whole dish, try pairing chicories with something equally strong and assertive. This combination often leads to a match made in heaven or at least, on your plate. With these strong tastes, incorporate something intense like anchovies, bacon, balsamic vinegar or blue cheese and you’ll be well on your way to culinary bliss.
Radicchio, sometimes known as red chicory, is usually found torn into little bits and pieces in salad mixes where its strong personality is hardly even noticed. In this pasta dish, I used a creamy blue cheese sauce and roasted walnuts with radicchio and all the flavors held their own and at the same time, worked beautifully together. Some people roast or grill it to mellow out the taste but be forewarned, along with its bitterness, it may lose some of its stunning beauty when it’s cooked. The brilliant burgundy, almost fushcia color can revert to grayish brown when exposed to heat.
Talk about color. This spinach salad knock-off using radicchio, hard-boiled eggs, bacon and salty feta cheese is a confetti of delicious colors and tastes. You can tear the radicchio and mix with other lettuces or cut into wedges like iceberg lettuce. Either way you cut it, the mixture of flavors held my interest and appetite until the very last bite. Dress with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add some chopped scallions and parsley and you have a one dish meal, perfect for a light lunch.
I’ll have to say that my favorite use of the chicories was the simplest. I washed a whole head of curly endive from Stoney Plains Organic Farm, sauteed several cloves of garlic and a couple shallots in olive oil, then added the endive and some chopped rosemary from the garden. Cook the whole thing for a couple of minutes until the greens wilt and become soft and buttery, letting the rosemary bring all the flavors together. This is an excellent side dish or can serve as a bed for fish or chicken.
Don’t let a little bitterness scare you away.
Last week in the NY times, Mark Bittman had an Escarole Soup with Creamy Rice that looks well worth trying.