Chic chic chicory
A real curiosity in many UK kitchens, but a delicacy in many kitchens on the continent, this veggie is well worth tasting at least once. Forced grown in darkness - in caves in Holland - it's tulip like heads have a unique flavour.
The key thing about chicory is that it's sensitive to light and temperature, so needs to be kept in the dark and cold to stay fresh, whilst you decide what to do with this seasonal wonder.
Chicory is a shoot and so can be used like any salad leaf, but it has a deliciously bitter flavour, so use it sparingly, if you're more used to the delicately flavoured salad leaves we tend to use here in the UK. Maybe even pair it with sweeter, creamier or stronger flavours. Chicory, pear and blue cheese salad is a classic.
A lovely unique thing about chicory is it's boat shaped leaves, so it's also a lovely way to serve nibbles. Again, pairing with sweeter foods is a great way to compliment the bitterness. These Prawn & Mango Chicory Cups on the BBC Goodfood website are beautiful!
To take away some of the bitterness, but retain a really lovely crunch and add a bit of caramelization, you can quarter them and roast them with olive oil and seasoning to enjoy as a side dish. It's a bit different. it's uniquely seasonal and it's unlikely your guests will have had them before.
But my favourite and very cheffy way to cook chicory is in a Dutch dish called Witlofschotel, which translates as 'White Leaf Dish'. This is a very easy, Anglicized version of the dish.
3-4 chicory heads
3-4 slices of ham
2 cups of your favourite white sauce (home made or lasagne sauce is great)
2 handfuls of your favourite grated cheese
a few gratings of nutmeg
1. Although simple in ingredients, the first step takes some time! Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Remove
any wilted or darkened leaves from the chicory heads and place them in the pan. Bring back up to the boil and leave
to simmer for 45 minutes. This is to tenderise and sweeten the chicory heads.
2. Pre-heat your oven to 180C. Wrap the whole heads of chicory in ham (or roasted aubergine slices also work) and
place like sardines in a tightly fitting oven tray. Pour over the sauce, sprinkle over the cheese and numeg, and top
with any extras such breadcrumbs or seeds.
3. Pop in the oven for 25-30minutes until golden and bubbling. Enjoy with salad and dipping bread!