Chicory (cicoria in Italian) is one of my very favorite greens. It brings back memories of Angelina for whom cicoria and escarole were almost daily staples. Maybe that’s why she lived well into her 90s… A great weeknight dinner option, the recipe for this soup is very fast, very simple and very healthy. (If you omit the cheese at the end, it’s entirely vegan.)
Serves 4-6 people
- 2 heads of chicory
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
- Olive oil, preferably of the dark green ‘fruity’ kind
- 200g (7 oz) of rice
- Salt and pepper
- Grated pecorino romano cheese for topping (optional)
You trim and cut up the chicory (or just the green parts–see Notes below) into smallish pieces, throw it into some well salted boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes or so.
You then transfer the chicory (use a slotted spoon, as you’ll need the “broth” for later) into a pan in which you will have sautéed the garlic in olive oil. Let the chicory insaporire—absorb the flavors of the seasoned oil—for a minute or two, then add a few ladlefuls of the chicory ‘broth’ until you have the quantity of soup you like.
Add rice and allow to simmer until the rice and chicory are tender. (If you have some cooked rice on hand, just add it at the very end, as when I made this soup, using some leftover white rice from a Chinese restaurant).
Serve in deep soup plates and top with pecorino cheese, freshly ground pepper and un filo d’olio–a drizzle of olive oil.
Variations: You can add potatoes in addition to, or instead of, the rice. You can also substitute soup pasta for the rice. For a softer taste, use chopped onion instead of (or in addition to) the garlic. You can add hot red pepper in addition to garlic to the oil as well if you want a little ‘heat’. And you can use butter instead of (or in addition to) the olive oil. For a richer dish, use chicken broth instead of the chicory broth. If you omit the rice, etc. altogether, and instead add some beaten egg mixed pecorino, you’ll have another favorite soup, cicoria cacio e uova.
Other ways to make chicory: Chicory is a versatile vegetable. Without the addition of broth, the recipe above becomes a great side dish. It goes very well with fava beans, as well. Chicory makes for a quick and tasty condimento for pasta. The white ‘heart’ of the cicoria is also a wonderful salad green, either as part of a mixed salad or–my favorite–as a substitute for punterelle, a special kind of chicory grown around Rome that is dressed with a very particular salsina made as follows: in a mortar and pestle, crush garlic, anchovy fillets and a bit of salt together until they make a paste, then add olive oil, a bit of vinegar and lots of freshly ground pepper. (NB: This is the only instance that I know of in Italian cooking that a salad dressing is made separately from the salad–the exception that proves the rule, I guess.) Served with some crusty bread and cold white wine, this salad is so satisfying, it’s a meal in itself!