What Are Chicories and How Do You Cook With Them?
We’ve hit the winter-produce slump. Besides root vegetables, chard, and kale, there’s not much that’s local and fresh come December. One notable exception? Hardy, wonderfully bitter, colorful chicories.
“In winter, people are really hungry for anything that’s local,” says Erin Enouen, co-owner of Long Season Farm, a 3.5-acre, four-season organic vegetable farm in Kerhonkson. “You’re basically eating kale and choy. We want to have the biggest variety, but we’re limited in what we can grow in winter, so having chicories really adds something different.”
Available in a variety of hues and shapes, chicories include pearly white endive, vibrant red radicchio, escarole, frisée, puntarelle, and buttery yellow, speckled Castelfranco. At Long Season, Enouen and husband/co-owner Sam Zurofsky plant chicories in July and August, but wait until the farm has experienced a few frosts to harvest. “That will sweeten them and make them really taste good,” says Enouen. Some will be used in late fall, but most will be stored to sell at farmers’ markets in December and January and to supply Long Season’s 80-member winter CSA.
Denser and more substantial than other greens, chicories boast a palate-cleansing bitterness that’s an ideal foil to rich winter dishes. (Think a bright radicchio-citrus salad with a fatty, slow-roasted pork shoulder.) Sturdy enough to handle bold flavors and aggressive seasonings, they’re also aces in cooked applications, whether roasted, grilled, sautéed, braised, or stirred by the handful into risottos, soups, and stews.
“Whether I’m making a salad or cooking with them, the key is a lot of fat because it’s going to mellow the flavor and highlight the sweetness,” says Enouen. “For salad, I like doing a creamy dressing, something with good fats and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. I always like to add something sweet, too — having that salt, fat, acid, and sweetness.”
Common chicories like escarole and red radicchio can generally be found at supermarkets, but “I think you’ll definitely find the most variety at a farmers’ market,” says Enouen, who’s particularly fond of sugarloaf, a giant, super-hearty type that can be used like escarole.
No matter where you’re shopping or what type of chicory you’re buying, choose dense, heavy, fresh-looking heads. “You can look beyond the outer leaves. If it’s nice on the inside, then it’s probably good,” says Enouen. “If the cut end is starting to look bad at the center, or if you’re seeing signs of sliminess, that’s a sign that it’s not storing well.”
Excited to start eating chicories? Pick some up from Long Season Farm at the Kingston and Beacon farmers’ markets this winter, and then get to work on these recipes.