While I love soups, always have, always will, I am definitley a quiche kind of person. Soups are generally considered as pure comfort foods, but for me, so are quiches. Quiche recipes are like canvases. They are versatile and it is easy to get creative with seasonal vegetables when putting together a quiche recipe. I love adding different kinds of seasonal veg, local cheeses and copious amounts of soft fresh herbs. I love the way quiches smell when they bake and I love that you can bring left-over quiche to the office and pack slices in lunch boxes for the kids. Always appealing, always delicious, quiches can be served as an informal lunch, grace a buffet table or serve as an elegant appetizer. And quiches can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Simply love them.
While much of our winter food is all about soothing and warming comfort food, fresh raw chicory packs a welcome, bitter crunch. It is a well known fact that lots of bitter foods are both tasty and very good for us. It is the bitter compounds in the likes of brussels sprouts and broccoli that provide vital nutrients.
So, why not waken up our taste buds and go for some chicory. Also known as endive in the US, or witloof (meaning white leaf) in Belgium, the humble chicory is a forced crop, grown in complete darkness, which accounts for its blanched white, yellow-tipped leaves. The story goes that a Belgian gardener grew it by accident in the 1840s. He was growing chicory roots to add to coffee and found some had sprouted tasty white leaves, a happy accident.
Chicory can be eaten raw or cooked and comes in red and white varieties. It has a distinctive, cigar-like shape, about 12cm (4.7 inches) long, and the crisp leaves have a mildly bitter flavor. It is available all year round. When buying chicory, make sure to choose the very best, by looking for firm, crisp leaves and avoid those with dark-green tips, as they are likely to be more bitter.
If the end of the chicory head is cracked or seems discolored, trim it off with a kitchen knife and remove any limp and discolored outer leaves. Then, depending on how you want to use it, either leave whole, separate the leaves, or slice lengthways into halves or quarters. Once cut, you can brush the leaves with freshly squeezed lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
Once picked and exposed to light, chicory leaves start to become more bitter, so they should be stored wrapped in paper to keep out the light and eaten as soon after picking as possible. Keep the wrapped chicory in the crisper/vegetable drawer of your fridge, that way it will last for around a week.
The following recipe of mine is a light tart that melts in your mouth, is feels like a real treat and it’s a cinch to make. There is not even any rolling involved. But if you prefer, you can make your own puff pastry for this.
Caramelized Chicory Quiche with Goat Cheese
(Author: The Kitchen Lioness)
Ingredients for the Pastry
- a small knob of unsalted butter for buttering the tart pan
- one round all-butter puff pastry (or make your own)
Ingredients for the Filling
- 50 g unsalted butter, divided
- 4 heads white chicory, cut in half lengthways, ends trimmed, washed, dried, then cut into half-rounds
- sea salt (depending on the saltiness of your goat´s cheese)
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 ½ tbsp sugar
- 1 spring onion, washed, dried, sliced thinly
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced (garlic can be omitted)
- 200 g cream (such as single cream which has a fat content of 18% or use cream with a fat content up to 30% )
- 2 eggs (L), free-range or organic
- 125 g soft goat`s cheese, crumbled into 2 cm pieces (it is nice to use a local variety here)
- Italian parsley and chives, washed, dried, finely chopped (or use other soft herbs of your liking)
Preparation of the Pastry
- Start by lightly buttering your 20cm (8in) loose-based fluted tart pan that is about 5cm (2in) deep. Line the pan with a round of baking parchment.
- Place the puff pastry in the tart pan, pressing it firmly against the base and sides. Roll and crumple the overhanding pastry back on to the rim of the pan, lifting slightly above it. Prick the pastry with the tines of a fork. Place the pan on a parchment lined baking sheet and keep cool while preparing the filling.
Preparation of the Filling
- Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F).
- On a medium heat, melt the butter in a large frying pan. Lay in the chicory, add salt and pepper, then sauté the chicory for a good ten minutes or until wilted down and golden-colored, add a bit of water during the cooking process if chicory looks to dry.
- Add the sugar and let the chicory caramelize for two to three minutes, until light golden in color.
- Remove the chicory from the pan and set aside to drain.
- Add a bit more butter to the frying pan, add the sliced spring onion and minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant.
- Mix the onion mixture into the chicory mixture. Set aside to drain and cool a bit while preparing the egg mixture.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cream with the eggs, salt, pepper and the finely chopped herbs,
- Scatter the caramelized chicory and onion mixture over the base of the pastry case and pour the egg and herb mixture gently on top.
- Scatter the crumbled goat cheese on top and press down lightly.
- Bake on the baking sheet in the centre of the oven for 25 to30 minutes or until the pastry is lightly browned and crisp and the filling is set.
- Take the quiche out of the oven and leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing.
- Serve warm or cold. As is or with a seasonal side salad.
The trick here, if you can call it such, is that even humble chicory needs a bit of careful cooking. I keep the heat no higher than moderate when I cook this vegetable. Too much browning tends to accentuate chicory’s characteristic bitterness, so I take care to let the color go no further than deep gold.
In this recipe, the delicate, creamy, barely-set filling is a festival of flavors - the saltiness of the goat´s cheese is offset in the most delicious of ways by the sweetness of the caramelized chicory that, at the same time, keeps a slighty agreeable bitter note. A must try recipe!
You should not limit bitter winter leaves like the pale and interesting chicory, or maybe its vivid, rounder cousin, radicchio - to the salad bowl – they are utterly delicious when cooked, too! And when cooked, chicory loses a little of the bitterness that some people find "challenging".
Chicory may be a bit of an acquired taste for some people but once you are hooked, there will be no turning back.