One of the side effects of eulogising about seasonal food is that you can’t help feeling a little bit of a fraud writing about vegetables you’ve never eaten. Enter chicory, the one you might know as belgian endive or witloof. As soon as I had typed the word onto my spring seasonal fruit and veg guide I realised I’d better get my culinary finger out and actually try some.
For some reason we’ve just never gotten round to trying it, probably because of its reputation for bitterness. But the bitter taste isn’t overpowering and makes the perfect foil to a sweet dressing. Chicory is pretty readily available, though it seems to cause the shops a bit of confusion by not fitting neatly into any of the established groupings of vegetables. In our supermarket the chicory was nestled underneath exotic ginger and chillies from much farther afield. Despite chicory being in season in the UK at this time of year much of the stuff we buy in the shops is actually grown in France (around Calais). But as Rose Prince points out in her excellent New English Table book “…strictly speaking this is just 20 miles from Kent, so more local to people in the South of England than a Scottish raspberry.”
Orange juice and butter is a classic chicory accompaniment. This braised chicory dish uses olive oil in place of the butter and has a plenty of flavour courtesy of the orange zest and a hint of honey. We had ours with roast chicken but it would go well with anything that isn’t too overpowering in flavour (pork, fish, a multitude of vegetarian dishes or maybe a grain to soak up the juices).
Some other side dishes
French beans with almonds
Baby carrots with plums and chilli
Beetroot, sumac and sweet potato salad
Calming lettuce noodles
Recipe for Chicory with orange, honey and pepper
Serves 2 to 4
4 chicory heads
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Juice and zest of half an orange
Heat the oven to 180C/350F.
Trim the bottom from each chicory head and then slice it in half lengthways.
Mix the olive oil, honey, thyme, orange juice and zest together to make the dressing.
Place the chicory in an ovenproof dish and pour over the dressing. Toss the chicory in the dressing to coat evenly. Season with black pepper.
Cook for 30 minutes, until golden and starting to caramelise.