Chicories are closely related to lettuces, but heartier and with a bitter edge. They are typically grown as cool weather crops that come into season in late fall (and last in temperate climates through early spring). You may have encountered elements of them, as chicories such as Belgian endive, curly endive, escarole and radicchio provide a lot of flavor to seasonal fall and winter meals, whether in salads, soups, or braises.
What Are Chicories?
Chicories include endives, but they're a little different botanically speaking. However, for the sake of discussing them as greens, they share much in common. They're available all year round in most grocery stores but winter is when you see them most often and most widely.
How to Cook With Chicories
Chicories can definitely be eaten raw, and in many cases, that's how they taste best. But others can really benefit from a slow braise or even a roasting to bring out some of their sweetness and tame a bit of their bitter edge.
What Do They Taste Like?
Chicories can have a bitter, earthy taste to them, but there is also some sweetness available depending on which ones you select—and how you pair them with other flavors and textures. Some chicories are sturdier than others (curly endive), and some have leaves that are softer and more delicate (such as Belgian endive), whereas others appear more traditionally leafy (escarole).
When raw and in salad, they do well when paired with other assertive flavors, strong cheeses, bold fruits, eggs, and nuts. Chicories can be sautéed, braised, roasted, and even turned into soup.
Where to Buy Chicories
Chicories are available in most supermarkets with an extensive produce section, but you may also find them seasonally at farmers markets, depending on where you live and the weather. Look for examples that are not wilted, brown around the edges, or otherwise soft or discolored.
It's recommended to store these greens as you would other greens—in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They are best used fresh—the sooner, the better. Some of them are a little heartier than others in terms of how long they will keep. Curly endive, for example, has a slightly shorter shelf life than other chicories and keeps best if treated like lettuce leaves, washed and stored rolled in paper towels.
Chicories can keep for a week or longer depending on the storage conditions and how fresh they were when you bought them; farmers market escarole, for example, will last longer than what you might buy at the supermarket. As with other greens, store them in the fridge, unwashed, until you are ready to use them. Otherwise, their shelf life will be compromised if they've been exposed to too much moisture before you're even ready to use them.
There are many different kinds of chicories, each with slightly different characteristics and assets.
Belgian endive is an extremely pale yellow, almost white, tightly packed head of leaves as long as a hand. It is grown in the dark, which stops chlorophyll from developing and keeps the leaves white. Look for tightly enveloped leaves, the palest of yellow coloring with no green at all, and fresh, moist cut ends.
Since they are "forced" to grow in artificial conditions, Belgian endives are available year-round. Their traditional season (when grown in fields and covered with sand to keep out the light), like that of all chicories, is late fall and winter.
Belgian endive can be chopped and added to salads, separated into leaves and used as serving vessels for dips and spreads, or slowly cooked over low heat as in braised Belgian endive.
Red Belgian Endive
"Red Belgian endive" is technically a small, forced radicchio. These plants are all so similar, however, that these tiny oblong radicchio heads can be used interchangeably with traditional white Belgian endive. Be warned that it does not keep its brilliant color when cooked but turns a vaguely blue-ish gray purple shade.
While it is delicious when cooked, this tiny version of radicchio is at its best when used in salads, added to crudites platters, or used as the base for canapes.
Curly Endive (Frisée)
Unlike Belgian endive, with its tightly closed heads, curly endive, also known as frisée, looks a bit like an untended lion's mane.
Curly endive is most commonly used in salads–such as curly endive with bacon and a poached egg—but is tasty when quickly sauteed and drizzled with a bit of strong vinegar, such as sherry or balsamic.
Escarole looks somewhat like a large, sturdy head of Boston lettuce. It has a similar crunch, too, but a much more assertive flavor.
Escarole is crunchy, green, and bitter. Bitter can go either way, but unless you have a particular aversion to this essential taste, bitter can be a beautiful thing, balancing the sweet and salty and sour in all foods.
Escarole is great torn into bite-size pieces for a salad and stands up well to bold dressings. Whether in salads or cooked, escarole pairs particularly well with egg. Also, try it grilled or broiled for a powerful accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats.
Radicchio is a brilliantly magenta-colored set of leaves. The most commonly available radicchio is Chioggia radicchio that looks like a small cabbage, and, in fact, resembles a looser-leafed and whiter-ribbed version of red cabbage.
Radicchio is sometimes sliced and added to salads, like all chicories, but really shines when cooked a bit. Halved and brushed with oil, it's great on the grill. It pairs particularly well with olives, blue cheese, apples, and walnuts.
This cross between radicchio and escarole has a wonderfully mild flavor with leaves delicate enough to use in salads, but sturdy enough to stand up to a bit of cooking. Plus, it's just so terribly pretty.
Similar in use and flavor to Chioggia radicchio, treviso radicchio is just a bit sweeter and grows in longer, looser-leafed heads. Use treviso as you would Chioggia radicchio. It's lovely chopped up and tossed in a salad. Or pop it on the grill.