Chicory: peppery, wild, grassy and beautifully bitter greens. Sauteed Roman style with garlic and chili pepper it is a tasty side dish for fish and meat. But you can use it also on a pizza or crostini, in a frittata with other vegetables, stuffed in a panino, or wrapped in a pita sandwich.
From the picture it might look to you as a simple sauteed vegetable, and one you’re not even that familiar with. The name, too, might sound far and away, chicory, is it another name for dandelion greens? Yes, I guess it is, in Italian it is known as cicoria, and in Rome it is a staple. This dish is probably more famous than the most famous pastas, Carbonara, Amatriciana, and Cacio e Pepe. To me, it holds a special place. Cicoria ripassata alla Romana (Chicory Sautéed Roman Style), is my favorite side dish, and I don’t even consider it just a side dish. With some bread on the side it is my go to food quite often. If you give me a plate of pasta and some cicoria, I am set. My meal is done, well, maybe not so done as I need that little hit of sweetness at the end of my meals 🙂 .
Modern Romans, and I am proudly part of it, consume cicoria as passionately as their ancestors, growing, picking the wild variety, buying and eating it in enormous quantities. It is boiled -which soothes the bitterness- drained scrupulously and then sautéed or ripassata in olive oil, garlic and peperoncino (chili pepper). Every Trattoria, Osteria, or Restaurant in Rome, has it on their menu.
And you might have noticed that this “trinity” of e.v.o. oil, garlic and chili pepper is the foundation of many Italian dishes; and the smell of it, coming from the sauteing pan, is so familiar to me, so comforting and always brings me back home. My grandma was an avid eater of chicory, kind of like me 😉 , and it was present in every meal we had. When in the countryside, she knew where to go foraging the wild chicory (cicoria selvatica), wild tangled greens, shorter than their cultivated counterpart: simple, primitive, rustic. An echo of another time.
We brought back some seeds from Italy and gave them to my in laws to plant in their garden. As you can see from the picture above, it was successfully grown then cultivated for us to enjoy. One of the many benefits of having parents who have a plentiful garden.
Chicory, cicoria, is part of the heritage of the Italian “Cucina Povera” (Poor Kitchen); poor but tasty cuisine, made with genuine, low cost, simple yet high quality ingredients. Dishes that our grandparents made after the War and during the Depression that were affordable, nutritious and able to feed hard working parents and a crowd of kids. We took a one day course on “Cucina Povera” in Tuscany and we will talk about it and share recipes in the near future.
Now to the flavor of the chicory: peppery, wild and grassy and beautifully bitter. Sauteed with garlic and chili pepper its bitterness is mitigated. If only boiled and seasoned with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and lemon, it is a healthier version but a tiny bit more bitter.
It is a tasty side dish for fish, meat, cheese, eggs. You can find it also on a pizza or crostini, in frittatas with other vegetables, in a stuffed panino, or wrapped in a pita sandwich.
Finding chicory or dandelion greens the other side of the Atlantic may be tricky but if you’re going to find them, you’ll likely find them at your local farmer’s markets or organic food markets, and if you do find them grab a few bunches. as in any greens when you cook them, they shrink to almost half the quantity if not less. The other great thing is that when you have boiled them you can squeeze the excess water out, shape them into a ball, and place them in a good zip lock freezer bag ready for the next time you want to enjoy this Chicory, Sauteed Roman Style (Cicoria Ripassata alla Romana).
Song of the day: “Get It Together”, by Seal.
- 4 cups fresh chicory leaves (during cooking it will significantly reduce its volume)
- 6/8 cups boiling water
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, whole
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 peperoncino (chili flakes), crushed or whole
- Clean and cut the leaves of the chicory. Wash them well under running water.
- Place a big pot of water to boil on the stove, then when the water comes to a boil place the chicory leaves in.
- Let cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Drain the chicory leaves in a colander and set aside to cool.
- When cooled off, squeeze remaining water out of them and make into a couple balls. At this time you can freeze some if you don't want to use it all.
- In a frying pan fry olive oil, garlic and chili flakes.
- When the garlic is golden in color, add the chicory leaves and salt.
- Fry in the pan for about 10 minutes, stirring to let the leaves infuse with the oil mixture.
- Serve warm.
Chicory has a slightly bitter taste, especially if it is wild chicory. Boiling it, is a good way to eliminate some of its bitterness, and sautéeing it in the pan with olive oil, garlic and chili flakes, mitigate its taste even more. In Rome it is the most common side dish, a great compliment to meat, fish, cheese and even used as a pizza or crostini topping, or stuffed in a panino.
More succulent side dishes?
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