The word chicory comes from the Greek kikhorion and the Latin cichorium intybus, meaning "January plant". In fact, its season is mainly winter.
Chicory has long grown everywhere in Asia, Europe, and America, and has probably been eaten since the dawn of time. In ancient times certain medicinal properties were attributed to it: it was made into antipyretic wines (to lower fever) or worming syrups (to eradicate worms).
It is still eaten raw or cooked, sought after for its bitter taste.
The Belgian endive is descended from chicory.
However, in the 17th century, its root was toasted and ground into powder to make an infusion that was a substitute for coffee. When coffee became scarce during the various wars, chicory would replace it. It is still used this way, particularly in the north of France, where it is still a very popular drink.
Very firm, pointed leaves without signs of bruising or wilting. If a chicory seems too small, it is because the damaged outer leaves have been removed; it is not fresh.
By piece or by weight. Radicchio di Treviso is sometimes sold in bags packaged in a controlled atmosphere or in bulk, in small bunches, or as loose leaves.
Chicory should be washed very carefully before use.
It can be used for all kinds of salads, and the curly varieties are well suited to walnuts and/or cheese.
Puntarella is a special salad from the Rome area: leaves from a radicchio heart are served with a dressing made with garlic and anchovies.
A good-quality Treviso radicchio can be grilled.
In a cool place for 2 or 3 days wrapped in a cloth or in a perforated plastic bag.
Chicory varieties are of particular nutritional interest owing to their high content of carotenoids (especially the red varieties), folates (vitamin B9), and dietary fiber. They are equally well endowed with minerals.
. Barbe de capucin
This is the closest to wild chicory. Its leaves are very long, very serrated, and light yellow or pale green in color. It is cultivated in a style similar to that of Belgian endives, carried out effectively in darkness. They are harvested in winter.
. Curly endive or frisée
Depending on the variety, the always highly serrated leaves of this plant are more or less green or white: the outer leaves are tied in order to obtain its whiteness.
Several varieties: Frisée de Meaux, Provence winter frisée, Pancalières (thin yellow and green leaves), Wallone (jagged leaves, white or yellow heart).
. Sugarloaf chicory
Its shape recalls that of Belgian endive, but it is larger. Its tightly packed leaves are very long and lightly serrated with large ribs, and white on the inside. It is widely grown in the south of France and in Italy. Somewhat bitter, this variety has an almond-like aroma.
. Red chicory or radicchio
Their leaves are not serrated, or only slightly. They are typical of the Veneto region of Italy.
. Radicchio de Chiogga (PGI): its leaves are bunched into a large ball with very prominent white ribs.
. Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco (PGI): lettuce-like shape. Its round leaves are greenish yellow with red and pink patches.
. Radicchio Rosso di Treviso (PGI):
Its taste is bittersweet. The crisp leaves are almost dark red in color with large white ribs.
. Early (precoce): Radicchio di Treviso in the shape of a large pineapple, this variety has leaves with red tips that turn pink and then white towards the bottom.
. Late (tardivo): the leaves are very long, open, and separate, with 6 cm of root with which it is sold, mainly in Italy. Radicchio di Treviso tardivo is very delicate and little is exported.
. Radicchio Rosso di Verona (PGI):
Similar to Radicchio di Treviso precoce, but shorter.
Large, curly and crisp leaves that are lighter in color and less bitter inside. Several varieties: Fine maraîchère, Fine bouclée, Géante maraîchère. There are also sub-varieties resulting from crossing chicory with Batavia lettuce: Grosse bouclée 2 or Batavia améliorée, Batavia Maraîchère.
Most chicory varieties reach the market in winter.
This is a close relative of the chicory family. It grows wild almost everywhere. It has small, green serrated leaves that are somewhat hard.
Improved: this cultivar has long and highly serrated leaves.
Etiolated: also cultivated and with long, almost white leaves.