Friday, April 15, 2011
I understand that when kids come home from college they expect to find their favorite comfort foods. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes maybe? In Italy it’s more likely to be nonna's pasta al forno. But my daughter? Want to know what Sophie's latest obsession is? Cicoria. Chicory. Yes. All she dreams about when coming back home from University in London is a big mess-o-greens.
Sophie started out like any normal child, refusing to eat vegetables for quite a long time. She was always partial to savory, salty and sour and so loved anything that was cheesy or cured or that she could squeeze lemon juice over. Tripe and prosciutto were favorites. Peas and carrots, not so much.
All that changed when she was about 13 years old, and somehow ‘discovered’ cucumbers. I think when she realized that she could take cucumbers and turn them into a briny greek salad, full of olives and feta cheese, it sort of opened up the flood gates.
Her chicory epiphany came at the take out counter of Roscioli. Next to the bakery they’ve got one of the best tavole calde in town. Sophie would meet my husband Domenico there for lunch, and somehow ‘discovered’ cicoria. No wonder she liked it. Even though this is the bitterest of greens, Roscioli softened the blow by first boiling it, then sauteing it in a heaping dose of olive oil with liberal amounts of garlic, red pepper and salt. And then some more salt.
Myself, I’m more partial to Swiss chard and spinach when it comes to leafy greens. But when the first leaves of spring chicory show themselves in the farmer’s markets in April, even I am seduced. It’s the time of year when they are at their least bitter so that the bitter is tamed in favor of a green sweetness.
Sophie’s home this week, for Spring break. Which coincided quiet nicely with appearance of Springtime chicory at last week’s farmer's market. Like Roscioli I do it ripassata in padella, or boiled and then sauteed in the pan. I don’t think I use quite as much olive oil as they do, nor am I so heavy-handed with the salt. But this being spring I was able to toss in a big handful of spring garlic at the very end. Barely cooked, it added that extra whollop of flavor to the chicory. Just as Sophie likes it.
1 kilo/ 2 pounds chicory
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 fresh spring garlic*
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
Wash the chicory well.
Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add chicory and cook until done. For Spring chicory this shouldn’t take so long. Maybe about 8 minutes or so. If you’re unsure, take out a piece and taste it. The stalks should be quite tender.
Drain the chicory.
In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and add chopped chopped garlic cloves (not fresh garlic) and red pepper. When garlic starts to become fragrant - about 3 minutes - add drained chicory. Toss very well, so that the chicory is completely coated with the seasoned oil. Add the chopped fresh garlic, and toss to mix. Taste and correct for salt. Serve hot or at room temperature.
*You may have seen spring garlic and not even know it. It looks a lot like spring onions and should be showing up at farmer’s markets around now. As your vendor if you’re unsure. And if you can’t find it, don’t worry. Just add an extra garlic clove to the oil.