ENDIVE AND ITS CHICORY RELATIVES
(Cichorium endivia and Cichorium intybus)
By SCMG Linda Rose
Endive (pronounced ‘on-deev’) is a cool-weather vegetable that comes in several forms including a broad-leafed form (escarole), a curly-leafed form (frisée) and a root crop form that produces the blanched bulb known as Belgian endive. Leafy forms of endive (Cichorium endivia) are biennial plants grown as annuals and resemble lettuce. Any study of endive invariably leads to a discussion of chicory because Belgian endive actually is a variety of chicory (Cichorium intybus). Chicories are short-lived perennials generally grown as annuals and include salad green varieties and large-rooted varieties whose roots are ground and used as a coffee substitute in some parts of the world, or as an additive to regular coffee.
Endive and chicory varieties are Mediterranean natives and are members of the Asteraceae (Compositae) or daisy family. Both leafy forms of endive, escarole and frisée, form a rosette of leaves while Belgian endive produces small
cylindrical heads and radicchio produces a lettuce-like head. Chicory also has green-leafed varieties that resemble leaf or head lettuce.
Leafy endive can be grown in all zones within Sonoma County. It tolerates more heat than lettuce but grows faster in cool weather. It tends to be somewhat bitter, but cool weather tempers the flavor. Since it matures in 90 to 95 days, planting should be timed to miss the hottest months. Spring endive can be planted from seed as soon as the ground can be worked. For a fall
crop, the California Master Gardener Handbook suggests sowing as late as July.
Direct seed leafy endive in rows 15-18 inches apart, and thin plants to 10-12 inches apart. It reaches full size when it measures one foot across. To further reduce the bitterness, many gardeners blanch the heads before harvest. Do this by pulling outer leaves over the center and tie them one third of the way down with rubber bands, but not when wet or they might rot. The covered center leaves will blanch to yellow or white in 7–10 days. Endive also can be used unblanched by cutting outer leaves as you would for chard or kale. Varieties suggested by Sunset Western Garden include ‘Green Curled’ frisée and ‘Broadleaved Batavian’ escarole. Leafy endive is eaten like other greens: sautéed or chopped into soups, stews and salads.
Chicory (C. intybus) includes well-known Belgian endive (sometimes called French endive or Witloof chicory) and red-leafed radicchio. It also includes lesser-known green-leafed, small-rooted chicories grown for salad greens.
Sunset Western Garden recommends ‘Witloof Bruxelles’ or ‘Totem’ as Belgian endive varieties. Plant seeds in spring or early summer to mature by fall. In winter, trim the greens leaving an inch of stem. Carefully dig the roots, let them dry in the open for a day or so, then bury them diagonally in moist sand and store them in a cool dark room. This will force pale, tender new growth. After a month or so, remove enough roots from storage to fill a one-foot-deep flower pot with roots. Put the pot in a tray of water and keep in a cool, totally dark place for another 3 weeks until bulbs are formed.
Although this may sound like more work than it is worth, the Belgians refer to these bulbs as “white gold.” They have flavor and versatility, are high in nutrition, high in minerals, low in sodium and, best of all, only 1 calorie per leaf! The flavor changes subtly depending on whether it is steamed, stewed, broiled or baked – or eaten raw. For a lovely appetizer, fill individual leaves with salmon or seafood, caviar or cheeses.
Red-leafed radicchio is best sown in mid to late summer so that it matures in cooler months. The lettuce-like heads become a deep rosy red as weather grows cold. It has a slightly bitter flavor that becomes less so as the color deepens. Both red and green chicories should be planted 1/4- to 1/2-inches deep and thinned to 6 to 12 inches apart. For best results, try growing a Dutch cultivar. Radicchio is harvested after heads form. Green varieties are cut-and-come again; that is, tender outside leaves are harvested as needed.
Experience a new green! If you do not have room in your food garden, plant an edible landscape border of the colorful leaf varieties.