I received this whimsical bouquet of red and green endive on Valentine’s Day, each head of endive still attached to its big root. The bouquet came from California Vegetable Specialties, the only US grower of endive. A whole case of endive followed the Valentine, and there was nothing to do but prepare endive for lunch and dinner all week.
As I became engrossed in experimenting with endive, I decided it was time to learn about how it is produced. Endive is the second growth on chicory roots. The chicory seed is sown in fields, and leafy greens follow. Once the greens are mature, they are harvested and used as high quality cattle feed. The precious roots are dug up, cleaned, and put in cold storage for a period of dormancy. Finally, the roots are moved to dark, cool, humid rooms, where they are forced to grow new leaves. The operation is very high tech, and local for those of us who live in California. Very little pesticides are used, and organically grown endive is available at Whole Foods and other specialty food stores.
I have always enjoyed endive’s sweet-peppery flavor and delicate crunch in salads, particularly when dressed with a sprightly Dijon mustard and Sherry wine vinegar vinaigrette and sprinkled with chopped walnuts. But I wanted to try other preparations too. I discovered endive makes a great stand in for iceberg lettuce or cabbage in tacos. I shredded a couple of heads of endive and tossed them with fresh lime juice and a minced Serrano chile; then heaped the mixture in warmed corn tortillas filled with sliced grilled chicken and avocado.
Individual endive spears are perfectly designed to hold all kinds of fillings. For appetizers, crumbled cheeses or minced smoked fish salads are ideal, and alternating red and green spears on a platter makes a beautiful presentation. I invited a friend back to my house for an impromptu lunch after a hike, and rummaging around in the refrigerator, I found ingredients for a twist on Cobb salad: chopped avocado, hardboiled egg, blue cheese, and prosciutto. Dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and mounded in endive spears, this made a simple, fresh meal.
The dish I am looking forward most to making again is orzo risotto with endive. Of course this isn’t really a risotto, but rice shaped orzo pasta develops a marvelous silky texture when it is cooked using the same technique as risotto- sautéed with onion, then simmered in a flavorful broth, with frequent stirring. Sliced endive cooked along with the orzo mellowed and became surprisingly sweet and tender. Finished with chopped prosciutto and freshly grated Grana Padano (Parmesan cheese would be good too), this made an easy and comforting supper, just right for the end of a stressful day, when we wanted to eat while we watched a documentary on TV. It would also be great served alongside chicken or fish.
Endive Orzo Risotto
- 3 cups low salt organic chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup gluten-free orzo pasta
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 heads endive, about 8 ounces, sliced crosswise
- 1 ounce prosciutto, about 3 slices, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
- Measure the broth into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and keep the broth hot.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until tender about 5 minutes. Add the orzo and sauté 3 minutes. Add the hot broth, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer 14 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the sliced endive and continue simmering until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is creamy, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes longer. Mix in the prosciutto and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve right away.
Photo by California Vegetable Specialties