21/07/2012 16:02

Chicory, also known as endive or radicchio.

A tightly-packed bulb of either green and white leaves or red and white, can be used raw or cooked. Its slightly bitter taste works really well with creamy sauces.

Popular served in salads, it has a mildly bitter taste complemented byfruits. The classic way to serve chicory is with walnuts, blue cheese, pears and French dressing. Separated into individual leaves chicory makes great little boats for holding dips, salsas and finely chopped salads.

Cooking - remove outer leaves, trim bottom of head and simmer for about 15 minutes with a little lemon juice. Or braise by cutting in half lengthways, cooking flat side down in butter in a covered pan for 15 minutes, turning once. It is also good caramelised in a pan with butter and a little honey to serve with roasts, or wrapped in ham, covered with cheese sauce, and baked.

Chicory is a perennial with a long tap root similar to a dandelion and it is this tap root which is roasted and used as an additive to coffee. Roasted chicory root is made by digging up the tap roots, after which they are washed, cut, dried and broken into small pieces prior to roasting. This process creates a caramelization of the sugars and gives chicory, as used with coffee, its characteristic taste.

Chicory is an old country garden plant; it was once known as Shepherd's clock because it was possible to estimate the time of day due to the fact that its flowers close at noon. The pale blue flowers of Chicory attract insects and butterflies in summer and later the birds will enjoy the seeds.

Makes a wonderful bitter-sweet side dish for roasts and casseroles.
Serves 4-6

3 heads chicory, halved lengthways
25g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 shallots, finely chopped
200ml single cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
30g finely grated parmesan

Heat the oven 190C/gas 5
In a large pan, fry the chicory, cut-side down, in the butter for a couple of minutes, until lovely and golden, then pop into a baking dish. Add the oil, garlic and the shallots to the pan and fry until soft. Pour in the cream and mustard, season well and bring to a simmer. Pour over the chicory and scatter over the parmesan. Pop into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until tender.