Chicory. I grew up with the smell of baked root chicory brewing with coffee that my father got from his Southern business colleagues. It’s a New Orleans favorite and he traveled there often. My mother and father just loved it and I remember that very distinctive smell. I think it made Mom and Dad feel special and exotic. No one in our St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves had ever heard of it in those days. So just recently, on this past Father’s day, my son made a warm wilted green salad of chicory to go with his Beef Wellington he made for my husband. It was a riff on a recipe from Tyler Florence. Tyler wants you to use Swiss chard, radicchio or escarole. I liked my son’s choice of chicory much better. I loved that salad so much that I have tinkered with it and made this chicory salad with walnuts and parmesan mine.
Chicory is a bitter green but with the dressing of warm honey and balsamic vinegar, it combats the sharpness and just makes the whole thing interesting and a bit addictive. Then adding the chopped toasted walnuts along with a bite here and there with a sliver of Parmigiano Reggiano, and well, I think you have a little bit of heaven in your mouth.
At our upstate farmer’s market last week, they had the biggest, most beautiful head of chicory. I was smitten and grabbed it up and starting excitedly telling the farmer about my recipe and what I was going to do with it. Suddenly, I noticed that everyone around was listening and taking notes. The farmer was so happy to hear my recipe as he said that most folks just don’t know what to do with chicory. Poor misunderstood thing, it needs some new positioning as a favorite wilted salad green, as it is mine. Try this and you’ll fall in LOVE too!
WILTED CHICORY SALAD WITH WALNUTS AND PARMESAN – serves 3 – 4
1/8 cup honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup of toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 medium or ½ large head of chicory, washed, spun dry and cut into 1½” pieces
1 shallot, very thinly sliced
½ tbs. grainy mustard
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese shavings, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place walnuts in a baking dish and toast for 7 – 8 minutes. When you can just begin to smell them, remove from the oven and let cool on a cutting board. Coarsely chop and set aside.
Cook honey and balsamic together over medium-high heat in a small saute pan, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Do not let it boil. Pile chopped chicory and sliced shallots in a large salad bowl. Whisk the grainy mustard into the balsamic-honey dressing, then whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste and pour over greens and shallots. Toss. Toss in toasted chopped walnuts, and garnish with shavings of Parmesan and serve immediately.
Now because these greens are so sturdy, the leftovers even held up for the next day. Of course they weren’t as good as when first made but they were still respectable. I do have one sister-in-law who loves a day old salad, all wilted and wet. I guess it’s an acquired taste?