I’ve been harvesting beautiful chicory and radicchio this fall and enjoying lots of salads and sautés from these deliciously bitter greens. The distinction seed catalogs make between chicory and radicchio is a bit puzzling since both are in the family Cichorium Intybus, but both Adaptive Seeds and Fedco Seeds distinguish chicory from radicchio by color, with chicory mostly green and radicchio mostly burgundy. It’s a useful distinction, I guess, because the most important thing to me is to grow enough of each color to have variety in the salad bowl.
From Adaptive Seeds, I grew two chicories, Sugarloaf Borca, “tall, green romaine-like ‘loafs’” and Variegata de Castlefranco, “a big heading chicory with lots of bright colors, mostly green with red speckles.” Also from Adaptive Seeds, I grew two radicchios, Treviso Mesola, large, tall heads with “deep red leaf color and crunchy white midribs” and Variegata de Chioggia, large, round heads with “red-pink and white variegation.” And from Fedco, I grew my old favorite, Indigo, burgundy-colored “large tight heads of extraordinary rich interior color.” I start seeds in flats in mid-July and transplant out in mid-August, spacing them at least eighteen inches apart. They are ready to harvest by mid-October. When late fall and winter rains come, I put a plastic tunnel over the bed to keep the plants from rotting.
When I harvest chicory and radicchio, I take the whole head which is comprised of abundant, rather floppy outer leaves and a more compact inner head. The inner heads, in the foreground of the photo, are best for salads while the outer leaves, in the background, are wonderful sautéed in olive oil and garlic.
Though called bitter greens, these chicories and radicchios actually have a lot of sweetness. On the bitterness scale, the green chicories seem to be a bit sweeter than the burgundy radicchios, but neither is ever unpleasantly bitter, and all mix wonderfully with truly sweet fruits and vegetables like pears and winter squash, rich nuts like toasted hazelnuts and slightly salty Pecorino Romano cheese. Even sautéed wild mushrooms are a tasty addition, as I found in a lunch salad I made the other day. The crunchy, succulent texture of the inner leaves stands up well to these firmer salad additions, but the leaves alone are also delicious with only a light vinaigrette. I have been making a vinaigrette with sherry vinegar, garlic and olive oil.
When I sauté the outer greens, I usually cut each leaf in half, separating the central rib, and then slice the leaves into squares or strips. The leaves sautéquickly in hot oil and, because they are so succulent, they need no water. They make a delicious side dish or pasta sauce and are great additions to soup.
A chicory and radicchio salad would be a perfect complement to turkey, gravy and stuffing and all the other rich side dishes of Thanksgiving dinner. Sadly, our Thanksgiving will be a small gathering of just me and my husband this year instead of the dozen or more friends who usually gather with us to celebrate the day, but we will definitely make a chicory and radicchio salad to go with our small turkey and our much-reduced array of traditional side dishes. Happy small Thanksgiving 2020 everyone, and here’s to large gatherings of friends again in 2021.