Winter is chicory season. Chicories are the often-labeled bitter greens, which include radicchio, endive, puntarelle and escarole. Bunches and heads of chicory are prolific throughout the season, difficult to miss with their with dramatic frilly, spiky and cone-headed leaves. And while their bitterness can be off-putting to some, at winter's peak, chicories are crisp, juicy, nutty and mildly sweet - all qualities that pleasantly balance their natural bitterness.
And they are healthy to boot. Fiber-rich and loaded with vitamins C, B and K, and nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper and potassium, chicories are the cold season warriors that will fight to keep you healthy throughout the winter.
The best way to approach these robust greens is to pair them with equally assertive yet balancing ingredients. A general rule to building good flavor is to strike a balance between bitter, sweet, sour and heat. So check those other flavor boxes when smoothing chicory's bitterness, and be confident that it can handle it.
For instance, when eating fresh chicory leaves, mound them in salads with equally hefty greens and crucifers, such as kale, red cabbage and spinach. Garnish them with dried fruit, nuts and seeds, and finish with sweet and sharp dressings such as a rich balsamic-Dijon vinaigrette or a lemony-anchovy dressing.
When cooking chicories, saute, roast or braise them to temper their bitterness. Cook and season them with flavorful stocks, vinegar or citrus, and a little sugar or honey for a rounded and flavorful effect.
This is my favorite way to cook purple- and red-leafed radicchio. Radicchio's sturdy head holds up well to braising (and grilling and sauteing; you get the picture). The balsamic vinegar is a great foil. It's fruity, rich and sharp, and, when cooked, the vinegar reduces to a rich sweet-and-sour syrup that shellacs the wilted radicchio wedges. Choose deeply colored, firm heads that have a little weight to them, and try to purchase similarly sized heads for this recipe to ensure even cooking.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of "Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture" (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.