We’re in the gap; when all those root vegetables and brassicas of winter have finally run their course, but there’s precious little on the allotment to take their place. This is the time of the larder and the freezer; lots of pulses, frozen beans, jars of last summer’s passata. But, there is fresh vegetable relief in the form of chicory. Surely one of the easiest crops on the allotment (apartment from their final couple of weeks of molly coddling)? Even the pigeons leave it alone; sow it in late autumn, and it just grows, shrugs off the winter and sits, waiting to be harvested whilst all around is a blasted heath.
I say chicory; but that’s a word that encompasses a whole raft of salads; leafy greens of varying degrees of bitterness. I wrote about puntarelle a few weeks ago; very Italian and virtually unknown in the UK. Italy loves chicory, just as it loves bitterness – think Campari, Cynar and Aperol; in the UK, the embrace is less demonstrative, and we, ever in need of justification, have to make it more fancy than it needs to be, and less bitter than it should be. So, we torture it, starving it of daylight whilst forcing it into growth, to create tight, pale shoots that are sweeter, tender and more delicate than they would be if allowed to take their own time in the growing.
And then you can make a fancy but anaemic salad, perhaps with some citrus or a raspberry vinegar dressing. It will be terribly UnBritish. It’ll feel healthy, nobody will really enjoy it, and you will long for the spring famine to finish so that you can eat peas raw from the pod and buttered radishes.
Or you can embrace the Latin, celebrate the bitter, accept that it is only March, and that the peas and radishes will have to wait. Make a risotto, a risotto that is breathtakingly good, with a punch of flavours that belies its simplicity.
- Two chicory heads
- Stick of celery
- One medium onion
- One medium tomato
- Two cloves of garlic
- 50g risotto rice
- Dry white vermouth
- Vegetable Stock
- Fresh Parsley
- Salt & Pepper
Take your chicory heads, slice them in half and simmer it in salted water for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery, tomato and garlic very finely and then fry until soft (but not brown) in an indulgent amount of butter.
Drain the chicory and slice it into thin strips (about 1cm across).
Turn up the heat and add these, and the rice to the onions and celery
Then add a slug of the vermouth and let it boil off (Vermouth is better than white wine in this recipe as it gives a herby tang that complements the chicory).
Now add vegetable stock, about 50ml at a time, you don’t need to obsessively hover over the pan, but check it every two or three minutes to make sure the rice isn’t sticking and to add more stock if it needs it. After about ten minutes, taste the rice. I like a bit of bite, some people prefer more of a rice pudding texture. Go with what you prefer.
Finally, add salt and pepper as you see fit, then dish it out with a generous topping of fresh chopped parsley and grated pecorino. It’ll be piping hot and salty, the chicory will impart a very gentle mustiness, like the smell of cooked cabbage, but beyond delicious.
So, there, chicory risotto. Infinitely better than any ill-conceived salad for a blustery March day.