Chicory and beans (Cicoria e fagioli)

Cicoria e fagioli (Chicory and Beans)

In Campania, contorno, piatti unici, primi piatti, Soups by Frank41 Comments

Chicory and Beans is one of those lean dishes that Angelina practically lived on weekdays. Like many good southern Italians, she was what we might call today a ‘flexitarian‘—living mostly on vegetables, saving meat for Sundays and other special occasions. Her lunch would often consist of chicory or escarole or some other vegetable, sautéed in typical aglio e olio style, perhaps over a slice of grilled bread. Way before Michael Pollan came along, Angelina ate real food and mostly plants, although, to be honest, she may have comprised on the “not too much” part of his famous formula for eating.

In this variation on a common theme, boiled beans add enough heft to the sautéed chicory make the dish a fairly substantial eating. When I don’t have the time or foresight to soak and boil dried beans—which is often—I add canned beans, well rinsed and drained. It makes the dish really quick and easy.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 2 large or 3 medium heads of chicory
  • 1 small can (425g/15 oz) of cannellini or borlotti beans, well rinsed and drained, or equivalent boiled beans
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 peperoncino or a pinch of dried pepper flakes (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Most chicory these days is sold pre-washed, but if you have any doubts, soak it in several changes of water to remove any grit. Drain well, reserving the light-colored heart if you like for salad (see Notes) and cut off the roots.

Boil the chicory in salted water until fully tender, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. You can let the chicory cool if you have the time, or rinse it under cold water if you don’t. Squeeze the chicory dry and chop it roughly.

In a large braised or sauté pan, lightly brown the garlic in abundant olive oil, adding the peperoncino  or red pepper flakes if using, for a few moments at the end. Remove both garlic and peperoncino. (The pepper flakes can stay in the pan, but proceed to the next step right away to avoid them burning and becoming bitter.)

Add the chopped chicory to the seasoned oil and let it simmer for about 5 minutes so it has a chance to absorb the flavorings. Then add the canned or boiled beans, along with a ladleful (or more) of the cooking water. Mix well but gingerly to avoid breaking up the beans. Let the mixture simmer for another few minutes.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, and serve hot or warm. A drizzle of best quality olive oil doesn’t hurt.

Notes on Chicory and Beans

Chicory and Beans is a really flexible fish. While the basic recipe makes a fine contorno or side dish, the beans make it substantial enough to serve as a vegan main course. And if you serve Chicory and Beans over toasted bread, it works as a light piatto unico, or one-dish meal, with only a piece of fruit needed afterwards to round things out. Add enough cooking liquid to your Chicory and Beans, and it becomes a thick soup serve as a first course, to which you could make even more substantial by adding rice or pasta as well. Come to think of it, you could even put small amounts on crostini as an antipasto

While cannellini or borlotti (aka cranberry) would be the most typical choices for Chicory and Beans, you can really use just about any kind of bean you like for this dish. And why not experiment with pintos or even red beans or black-eyed peas if that’s what you have on hand? And, by the way, you can always add more beans than called for here—as much as double, in fact—if you want a more substantial dish. Personally, I don’t even measure, just “eyeballing” it until I have the balance of greens and beans that appeals to me. And while purists may scoff, I actually find canned beans are quite an acceptable substitute for dried beans. Just be sure to rinse them well, to remove the funny taste of their canning liquid.  In my opinion, good quality convenience foods have their place in even the best home cooking.

And, by the way, as another way to bulk up your greens, you can add potatoes, cubed or sliced into wedges instead of potatoes.

Rather than adding them to the pot along with the tougher dark green outer leaves, I like to reserve the tender hearts of chicory for use as a salad. As I’ve written about before, their slightly bitter flavor goes especially well with the anchovy dressing that Romans use for puntarelle.

Cicoria e fagioli (Chicory and Beans)

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Cicoria e fagioli (Chicory and Beans)

Ingredients

  • 2 large or 3 medium heads of chicory
  • 1 small can (425g/15 oz) of cannellini or borlotti beans (or equivalent boiled beans)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 peperoncino or a pinch of dried pepper flakes (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Most chicory these days is sold pre-washed, but if you have any doubts, soak it in several changes of water to remove any grit. Drain well, reserving the light-colored heart if you like for salad (see Notes) and cut off the roots.
  2. Boil the chicory in salted water until fully tender, about 5-10 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. You can let the chicory cool if you have the time, or rinse it under cold water if you don't. Squeeze the chicory dry and chop it roughly.
  3. In a large braised or sauté pan, lightly brown the garlic in abundant olive oil, adding the peperoncino or red pepper flakes if using, for a few moments at the end. Remove both garlic and peperoncino. (The pepper flakes can stay in the pan, but proceed to the next step right away to avoid them burning and becoming bitter.)
  4. Add the chopped chicory to the seasoned oil and let it simmer for about 5 minutes so it has a chance to absorb the flavorings. Then add the canned or boiled beans, along with a ladleful (or more) of the cooking water. Mix well but gingerly to avoid breaking up the beans. Let the mixture simmer for another few minutes.
  5. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and serve hot or warm. A drizzle of best quality olive oil doesn't hurt.
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Comments

  1. Hi, Frank. I would like to make this, but have seen so many different plants labeled “chicory” (a Google image search for “cicoria” yields quite an array) that I don’t know which to look for at the market. Could you direct me to a picture of the kind you mean before it’s cooked, please?

    1. Author

      Here is a link to a photo and some info on what I mean by chicory. It seems that there is, in fact, a fair bit of confusion about the term! There are various types, but the one in the photo is the kind I had in mind. That said, this recipe should work with just about any leafy green you’d like to employ. Let us know how things work out.

  2. looks wonderful, I do something similar with Broccoli rabe and gigante beans.

  3. I’m with Angelina. I could eat this and be very happy, several times a week!
    LL
    P.S. Thanks Frank for your recent comments on my site, as always so nice to hear from you! I love all of our old-timer bloggers 🙂

  4. I can’t say I always liked cicoria. In face, as a child, I dreaded it. Everybody in the family foraged for it, so it was hard to escape. I slowly trained my palate to appreciate it and ended up liking it a lot. It pairs well with beans, which offset its bitter edge.

    1. Author

      Funny how our tastes change over time, given enough patience kids come to like most foods, I think. It’s all about exposure, isn’t it?

  5. What a wonderful dish, Frank. I love beans and in my house we eat them quite often. I need to check around to see if I can find the chicory here because I’d love to try your recipe.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Nancy! Worth a try. And if you can’t find chicory, another leafy vegetable like escarole or dandelion should also work.

  6. Classic “Momfood.” (We used to call our grandmother “Mom.” If a child or any adult valued his or her life he NEVER addressed her as Grandma. Never.) Boy, but this brings back some sweet memories of bitter greens! This thrifty dish will fill a belly and nourish the soul.

  7. Frank – this brings back many memories from childhood. We used to sometimes make it more soupy, and rip up stale bread into the bowl. I still make this, especially in the spring, after I harvest wild mustard greens.

  8. Ciao Frank! When you said Angelina lived on such as this throughout the week — so did we. Meat had to extend and feed a family. Sunday was chicken — brodo out of the carcass and then there would be the gnocchi in brodo, the chicken for another meal. Mamma would bone out most meats because she love using the bones for broth and soups. Your photo is beautiful and I love your stories about Angelina — I wish I’d known her. Buon fine settimana.

    1. Author

      Our families might have eaten that way out of necessity, but now we know it’s the best way to eat, no matter how well off we may be. And yes, Angelina was a really special person!

  9. Thank you for your wonderful recipe for Cicoria e fagioli. It brings back so many memories of my nonna’s kitchen in Calabria. A simple meal that was delicious and wholesome for us. My mother also used Cicoria in many of her wonderful dishes here in Canada. Cicoria e Patate, Cicoria e Pasta. I learned to love all bitter greens. I will leave you with a very funny story. One late spring afternoon my mother was visiting us and my little four year old daughter was in the backyard with her nonna. Mom of course notice some nice dandelion greens growing in our lawn and of course started to pick them for a simple salad. My daughter watched her intently and followed her into the house and watched her Nonna wash, cut and prepare them for a small salad. A little alarmed my daughter came to me and very quietly asked “Mommy why is Nonna cooking our weeds”. We laughed uncontrollably at this comment. And I must tell you this little girl is now in her 30’s and is an amazing cook and loves Cicoria all bitter greens!

    1. Author

      Ha! Waste not, want not! I love the idea of foraging for food. You would see it all the time back in Italy, here in North America, not so much… And I’m sure that dandelion salad was really delicious!

  10. My parents live in the countryside in Michigan and have a couple of acres so mum goes out back to get wild cicoria and dandelion in the summer!

    I went to an agriturismo in Caianello last September and all they served was peasant-style food. Although everything was absolutely incredibly delicious, the escarole and bean was my favorite! I could easily have eaten 2 or 3 bowlfuls! I took a photo of a bite of it on a fork and it’s one of my favorite photos from my entire 5 week trip through Europe. Now that’s saying something! 😉

    1. Author

      I wish I had learned to identify wild greens. I didn’t mention it in the post since I doubt it would be relevant to most readers, but wild chicory is much more interesting than the variety you’ll find in US supermarkets. In Italy you can buy wild chicory in the markets, but here I’d have to use my foraging skills—if I had them!

  11. Sometimes the simplest meal is the best! Your photo of Cicoria e fagioli is gorgeous and makes me want to try it. A lovely lunch for a wintery day.

  12. A classic. My mom used to make boiled chicory and dress it very lightly, with olive oil, salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. We Italians love our bitter greens, don’t we? Also, I should make this to counter against all the castagnole I’ve eaten in the past few days…

    1. Author

      We sure do! And for good reason: they’re delicious! Funny that human beings are born with an instinctive aversion to bitter tastes and yet learn to love them later in life… One day I’ll have to look into that. I’m sure there’s an answer why.

  13. Loved this dish. My grandma used to cook it very often in winter. She would stew the beans in a clay pot in her fireplace. I am sure that this made her dish so wonderfully tasty and warm! Where do I find hickory here in DC?

    1. Author

      You can find chicory in many supermarkets this time of year, in the greens section. Just look closely. Unless you’re careful you may mistake it for just another salad green!

  14. I love those basic, peasant type meals – especially in the winter. We don’t eat enough beans and pulses in the UK and need to do more. I think using bitter greens makes a nice change. In New York they can get Broccoli Rabe which is bitter broccoli. You cannot get it over here. This looks delicious and full of fibre to fill any empty stomach. Thanks for this recipe.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome! Sorry to hear broccoli rabe isn’t available in the UK, it’s such a lovely vegetable. Perhaps if more people ask for it, it’ll appear? Or you could grow your own. I hear it’s rather easy.

  15. Yum, looks amazing! I have to say I prefer the fave e cicoria (broad beans/fava beans puree and chicory) version though, but I’m from Puglia, so I might be a bit biased 🙂

    1. Author

      Well, I understand… 😉 Fave e cicoria is also delicious. I love them equally. (Part of my family is also from Puglia… )

  16. splendid dish. of the things I miss most from Italy are bitter greens: I have never seen them here in the uk: occasionally I see puntarelle at exorbitant prices. …bu then MOST UK vegetable offer is pretty poor (and this is reflected on the alarming rate of obesity, especially amongst kids). I also enjoy mixing beans, bitter greens (or cabbage) with polenta, to make what in Garfagnana (between Liguria and Tuscany) is called farinata o polenta incatenata. I also had nice versions of this beans&greens using dried broadbans, like they do in Puglia (and in many other parts of Southern Italy actually). ciao, Stefano

    1. Author

      All delicious! I remember farinata from my frequent trips to Florence when I was living in Rome—it’s one of my favorite Tuscan dishes. Here you can’t find puntarelle for love or money, unfortunately. 🙁

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