About Endive/Escarole/Frisee

April 22, 2007

About Endive/Escarole/Frisee

Endive (Cichorium endiva) is a member of the chicory genus and of the daisy family (Composites), like radicchio. Endive looks a bit like lettuce and has two main forms: narrow-leaved and broad-leaved. Either can be flat-leaved or curly-leaved.  When curly-leaved, endive is often referred to as escarole. The outside leaves of an endive head are green and slightly bitter. The inner leaves are usually light green to creamy-white and milder flavored. Another form of endive, the Belgian endive, is merely of flat-leaved endive grown in full darkness.

Initially used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for medicinal purposes, endive has been consumed as a food by Europeans since the 14th century. Endive is still an important vegetable in Europe but not so much in the U.S. It is most popular in France, Belgium, Holland and Italy. In the U.S., endive is grown for its green leaves, which are used as a salad green and for its thick roots which are used in the southern U.S. as an additive flavor to coffee and sometimes as a coffee substitute.

Endive is often used in salad mixtures with blander-flavored lettuce to prepare a salad with a “little bite.” The bitterness is typically moderated with the addition of vinegar, chile flakes, lemon juice, or fatty foods (cheese or bacon). For example, a typical Belgian salad, Salade aux Lardons, is made with endive, hard-boiled eggs, bacon bits and vinaigrette. Endive is also excellent braised in butter, or added to soups. It can also be steamed and served with a cheese sauce.

Belgian Endive, also called Witloof or Chicon in its native country, is the white, compact head produced by sprouting the mature roots in darkness. It is first grown like lettuce in spring and summer. It is then harvested in the fall before hard freezing occurs. The head is removed and the roots are stacked in the field. After being exposed to cold, the roots are planted upright in moist sand (usually in a cellar, or if planted outside, under a tarp or straw to prevent daylight from reaching them and to protect them from frost).  In those conditions, they grow a new white head with pale yellow tips and provide fresh vegetables all winter long.  Sliced Belgian endive mixed with shrimp and mayonnaise and little bit of salt and pepper makes an excellent appetizer.

One Response to “About Endive/Escarole/Frisee”

  1. Ron Says:

    I can’t find frisee anywhere in the Tucson area – any suggestions?

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