This month we interviewed Denise Tolson, who discovered chicory at the tender age of 18 whilst doing a grand tour of Europe. Years on, she’s still a fan with a rather tasty chicory recipe up her sleeve.
VBR: Hi Denise – thanks for spending some time with us talking about Chicory. Not everyone has eaten this veggie. When did you discover it?
Denise: I discovered chicory when I went to Italy aged 18 with my sister aged 17. We were doing one of those ‘take a flight and see what happens’ holidays with hardly any money and no sense to speak of. Anyway, we tended to eat in very cheap places where you ate what you were given. One day we got chicory in some sort of salad. It was a bit of a shock as it was quite bitter but we definitely developed a taste for it. In Italy you can get glorious red chicory as well as the beautiful pale green version you more commonly see in this country. I think Waitrose do it sometimes.
VBR: What was the first meal you ever cooked using it?
Denise: I started off just mixing in in with other salad stuff and putting french dressing on it which was very nice. I grew up on those round floppy lettuces with cucumber and tomato and plenty of salad cream when salad was on offer at home but after Italy I got a lot more adventurous.
VBR: What does Chicory taste like to you?
Denise: Chicory tastes quite bitter but much less so than it used to. I wonder whether English growers have bred some of the bitterness out to make it more palatable to the British market. Either that or my tastebuds are jiggered! I think it is a really pretty vegetable and it also has a good texture, especially at the white end so it gives a bit of crunch to your salad.
VBR: Do you know any strange facts about chicory?
Denise: I know that it is sometimes called Belgian endive which can be a bit muddling as to me that is a different type of lettuce.
VBR: Care to share your favourite Chicory recipe with us?
Denise: Sometimes I make a caesar salad with half little gem and half chicory and that is nice. I have two sorts of dressings that I use just with chicory and they are both Nigella Lawson ones: Mustard dressing and Anchovy dressing.
Here’s a full recipe for any fish eaters out there – it also uses beetroot, another veggie that’s currently in season.
VBR: So are you a vegetarian, Denise?
Denise: I am not a vegetarian myself although I was for about 20 years. I have eaten fish for about the last 10 years and I have managed to end up in a family of carnivores, don’t know how that happened, punishment for sins in a previous life probably.
I studied nutrition at university in the early 80’s and I think that made me very thoughtful and curious about the food I was putting in my mouth. One of the reasons I stopped eating meat was that at that time it was factory farmed meat or nothing and I couldn’t see that those intensive farming methods could be good for either us or the animals involved in the process. People used to laugh at me for that but they went surprisingly quiet after BSE.
VBR: Do you get a vegbox?
Denise: I used to grow my own veg before organic became available. Now I am a mother and work full time I’ve become very lazy and use a box scheme. We grow tomatoes and squash in the summer for fun and because I am a food bore and want the sprogs to know where there food comes from. I will probably go back to grow your own at some point. I’m hoping to buy some chickens for my son’s birthday in the spring (really an indulgence for me thinly disguised as generosity).
I do use the supermarket for most of my shopping but I also like the local farmer’s market (only comes once a month sadly) and the local Saturday market. I try not to buy out of season stuff like strawberries in winter and I only ever buy English asparagus because it is the best and we are really lucky to have a farm down the road so we get it really fresh.
VBR: How did you first discover VegBox Recipes?
Denise: I get a bit bored with root veg in the winter. We started looking at the recipe site to get ideas about what to do with root veg as boiling and mashing or roasting can get very dull. There is also a great vegetarian cookery writer in the weekend Guardian magazine called Yotam Ottolenghi. He recently did a two potato curry using sweet potato (which I don’t like much) and ordinary potato, it was delicious and will become a favourite. We have also used organic meat boxes and they are very good.
VBR: Do you like the vegetables available at this time of year, or is there another time of year you prefer?
Denise: I’m more of a leafy / green veg / salad kind of gal. Though I am rather fond of the old jerusalem artichokes as our friends know to their cost…
VBR: Denise, thanks so much for helping us get to know February’s first Veggie-in-the-Spotlight.
Denise: You’re very welcome. I hope the recipe goes down well. I’m off out now for a spot of snowball throwing!
Over to you! Tell us what you love (or loathe!) about chicory by using the comments box below.
The VegBox Team