If you are looking for a quick and tasty recipe featuring true Roman chicory, you have come to the right place. In the next few lines we will explain how to prepare at home this amazing herb, that combines a thousand-year-old history with great nutritional value.
Roman chicory, a humble symbol of the valleys of Lazio
Long before the age of the internet and social media, in the countryside of Lazio and in the entire Southern Italy, people would often spend their free time taking a stroll while picking chicory, thus combining business with pleasure.
Before the economic boom and the consequent overbuilding, it was in fact common to see crowds of women in the fields, bent on the ditch banks at the side of semi-trodden roads. Armed with sickles and knifes, bags and baskets, they looked for the wild and perennial herb that played a leading role in numerous “poor” dishes of the Italian tradition.
Once they had finished harvesting, our grandmothers headed back to their homes with the precious vegetable, which was the main sustenance for the family at that time. They cleaned this wild herb by removing all of the impurities, then they washed it and cooked it in a pan. That chicory, the wild chicory, the true chicory, was quite different from the one you can find at the market nowadays. And when you do find it, it’s usually sold as an extremely rare product, therefore it’s very expensive. This vegetable, easy to cook in different variations and to include in countless recipes, is part of Rome’s culinary tradition.
Roman chicory and its nutritional benefits
Chicory and its health benefits were known since Ancient Egypt; this herb was in fact appreciated for its digestive properties. It is even mentioned in the works by Pliny the Elder, who praised chicory’s significant nutritional benefits and therapeutic properties. Its consumption contrasts cholesterol and glycaemia, and is thus suitable for low-fat and low-sugar diets. Moreover, by eating chicory you will load up on vitamins since it contains vitamin C, vitamin B, vitamins P (which strengthen capillaries) and K (which facilitate coagulation). With its almost “magical” features, chicory is also an efficient remedy for liver and gallbladder problems, therefore, apart from the culinary field, it is very often used in herbal medicine. Cichoric acid is extracted from its roots and contains caffeine. Its leaves in fact, after being properly roasted, can be used as an alternative to coffee.
Thus, chicory is used in countless ways and recipes. The most popular dish is definitely Roman-style sautéed chicory, an appetizing and mouth-watering side dish. You will be able to savour this very typical recipe at Aristocampo Trastevere. But if you want to try and prepare a chicory dish on your own, keep on reading to find out our chef’s advice on how to make this tasty food.
Best chicory recipe
There are different types of chicory: Catalogna Chicory, the sprouts of which are known as “puntarelle”, another typical dish of Lazio, Belgian Endive, Red Chicory and finally the variety that can be found in nature, wild chicory, the “true” Roman chicory. It has got a slightly bitter flavour with a nice spicy aftertaste which makes it suitable to be matched with both meat and fish dishes (try it with grilled sea bass!). Its preparation is really simple and quick:
1.5 kg of chicory (make sure it’s wild chicory!);
5 spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil;
2 garlic cloves;
1 small piece of chili pepper (the spicier the better);
1. On a chopping board, clean the chicory well by cutting off the lower part of the leaves with a knife; if some leaves are ruined, throw them away.
2. Fill a container with plenty of cold water and wash the leaves you have selected. For a deep cleanse, add a tablespoon of baking soda to the water.
3. Rinse the leaves more than once until they are free from any external element (such as dirt residues).
4. Once the leaves are perfectly clean, blot them carefully.
5. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Then add the chicory and a handful of salt. Cook for about 5 minutes.
6. Drain the chicory and, once it has cooled down, squeeze it well.
7. In a pan, pour the extra virgin olive oil and brown the garlic cloves over medium heat. Add the chili pepper.
8. As soon as the garlic starts turning brown, add the parboiled chicory and stir-fry for 10 minutes.
9. Season to taste and serve hot or slightly lukewarm.
Advice and variations
According to the suggested recipe, chicory must be boiled, but you can also stir-fry it without boiling it, after cleaning it carefully. This way, the chicory will be crunchier. If there is some left over, remember that you can store it in the fridge in a hermetically sealed glass container. It will keep 2-3 days. To reheat it, stir-fry with oil and hot water. For a peculiar seasoning, after cooking, dust with grated cheese.
Chicory is suitable for creating numerous dishes. Another much appreciated variation is sour chicory, with oil, salt and lemon juice. Or chicory with tomato sauce that gives off the strong flavour of wilderness. Or, we don’t see why not, it’s even possible to use chicory in a primo piatto, a typical Italian first course (as in our spaghetti with chicory and pecorino). By using just some mirepoix and 3-4 anchovies, you will be able to make a short pasta dish such as orecchiette or fusilli, to be stirred in the same pot where the chicory is parboiled.
As far as the secondi piatti, the second courses, are concerned, chicory also goes great with potatoes, olives or even legumes. Chicory also marries with scrambled eggs, better if you add some grilled pancetta.
Chicory desserts? They actually exist! An example is the savoury rustic pie studded with raisins and pine nuts, perfect for contrasting sweetly the slightly bitter flavour typical of this extraordinary herb.
In conclusion, despite its traditionally rural nature, chicory still amazes for its versatility in the kitchen and makes it possible to have a bite of tradition without having to travel back in time. If you wish to taste the true chicory, raw ingredient and pride of the authentic Roman cuisine, all you need to do is book a table at Aristocampo Trastevere.
We will be here waiting for you!