Winter Greens: They Are Bittersweet
By Veronica Sliva
Winter is the perfect time to add winter greens to your menus. Surprisingly underused, endive, escarole and radicchio are packed with flavour and are a better alternative to the often tasteless imported lettuces.
The Chicory Family
In the garden, as the weather turns colder the exquisite leaves of radicchio turn from green to magenta before curling themselves inwards to form tight, plump heads. With escarole, their inner leaves are hidden from the chilled temperatures and keep their hearts sweet. These succulent members of the chicory family have been grown this way for centuries to minimize their inherent bitterness, before being added to robust winter dishes. They are ready and waiting on produce shelves everywhere for you to enjoy.
The chicory family is a wide and varied group. Some grow in loose-leave bunches with leaves that are smooth or frilly. Others form tight heads and are tapered or round. They’re often brightly-coloured, ranging from purest white or pale yellow to bright green and maroon.
There’s often some confusion regarding their names because they’re known interchangeably as chicory and endive, though they are all part of the same botanical family.
The chicory family (C. intybus) includes all the red chicories and the blanched Belgian endive. There are many different red varieties, but the most common is radicchio. Radicchio, with its compact head of white-veined, burgundy leaves looks very much like a small cabbage. Belgian endive, also called French endive or witloof, is a small, cylindrical head of pale, tightly packed leaves.
The endive family (C. endivia) can be divided more simply between curly and broad-leaved varieties. All are green, but when blanched (grown in the dark) their hearts remain white or pale yellow. The curly-leaved varieties are called... what else? Curly endive. They sport lacy, green-rimmed and curly leaves, with a prickly texture. The broader leaved varieties are known as escarole. They have slightly curved, pale green leaves with a milder flavor than curly endive. Escarole can also be flecked with red.
All members of the chicory family have one thing in common though—a tangy edge of bitterness. It’s this edge of bitterness that adds interest to our meals.
Choosing Winter Greens
The outer leaves of any chicory should be bright and crisp, with no wilting or yellowing. The hearts of leafy varieties like escarole or endive should be a pale yellow. The stem ends should not be brown or have a dried appearance. The flavor should be pleasantly bitter.
Storage and Handling
Keep unwashed chicories in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator vegetable crisper for up to a week. Because some chicory leaves bruise where cut, prepare them as close to serving time as possible. Slice endive and escarole at the base of the bunch with a sharp knife to and wash carefully in cool water.
When you want a unique salad with a twist try this Bitter Greens Salad. The creamy texture of the brie cheese and the crunch of pine nuts combine with the acidity of well-matured balsamic vinegar that sweetens the greens and creates a taste sensation to tantalize your taste buds.
If you fancy the simplest of salads, you’ll appreciate our Italian Greens with Lemon. This recipe is a nice change from the usual lettuces and highlights the fresh taste of lemons.
Pomegranates and clementines are in season during the winter months. To add a festive flair to your menu, try our Escarole, Pomegranate and Clementine Salad.
Lightly grilled or gently poached, greens from the chicory family are the ideal accompaniment to any winter meal. Radicchio and Belgian endive prepared in this way gain a deep, mellow flavour. To accompany grilled or roasted meats, you’ll love the Mediterranean flair of the simple, but elegant Boiled Endive with Olive Oil and Lemon.
If the weather outside is frightful, there’s nothing quite like a soothing bowl of steaming soup to warm you up. Use any combination of greens such this Creamy Greens Soup.
A simple way to prepare Belgian endive is by slowly roasting them in olive oil, garlic and thyme.