Cicoria in Italy is a wintery-spring staple. Packed full of vitamins and mineral salts (particularly in wild chicory) it is deliciously bitter and a fine side dish accompanying meat, fish or potato based dishes.
Chicory contains vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, phosphorus and carbohydrates. It is a natural blood cleanser as well as being an effective dermatosis aid (which typically flares up in the winter – yet another call to eat seasonally) and also does a great job of lowering blood sugar levels. As it’s iron rich, it’s also recommended for people who suffer from anemia, which again may be more pronounced when chicory is in season.
If you can get the tender young leaves, it works well as a salad starter. Nutritionists often claim we should start our meal with something bitter as it makes for much better digestion. This of course also applies to radicchio, of the same family. Indeed a radicchio/orange/fennel/olive salad is one of the best cold weather tonics you could imagine.
Another form of chicory we are particularly fond of is puntarelle, the roman stalky looking version that is julienned in to strips and then blanched in lemony water which has a curling effect. This is then dressed with a sensational anchovy, garlic, lemon and extra virgin olive oil sauce – an incredible partner to grilled lamb chops.
Nationwide in Italy, you are most likely to find cicoria as a ‘contorno’, either lightly boiled or steamed and then ripassato (lightly sautéed) with a little peperoncino, garlic and salt. This vegetable is insanely good for you. Don’t be afraid, get stuck in.
We particularly enjoy the richer Puglian oils with Chicory. If you are cooking with it, use Il Classico from the De Carlo family. To finish or dress a dish, Tenuta Torre di Mossa is an antioxidant-rich delight and brings chicory to a new level.