Balsamic Braised Radicchio

Taming the Chicory

Winter is chicory season. Chicories are the often-labeled family of bitter greens, which include radicchio, endive, puntarelle, and escarole. Bunches and heads of chicory are prolific throughout the cold season, difficult to miss with their dramatic frilly, spiky, and cone-headed leaves. And while their bitterness can be off-putting to some, at winter’s peak, chicories are crisp, juicy, nutty and mildly sweet – all qualities that pleasantly balance their natural bitterness. Plus, they are healthy to boot. Fiber-rich and loaded with vitamins C, B, and K and nutrients, such as iron, zinc, copper, and potassium, chicories are the cold season’s warriors that will fight to keep you healthy throughout winter.

The best way to approach these robust greens is to pair them with equally assertive yet balancing ingredients, striking a balance between bitter, sweet, sour, and heat. This is one of my favorite methods to cook radicchio. The sturdy purple heads hold up well to braising, and balsamic vinegar is a great foil with its rich, fruity, and sharp notes. When cooked, balsamic vinegar reduces to a sweet and sour syrup that shellacs the wilted radicchio wedges. Choose deeply colored, firm heads that have a little weight to them, and try to purchase similarly sized heads for this recipe to ensure even cooking.

Balsamic Braised Radicchio

Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

4 medium-large heads radicchio
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock, mushroom stock, or water
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3 to 4 thyme sprigs

1. Halve the radicchios top to stem. Using a paring knife, cut out the white stem at the bottom of each half, then halve each half lengthwise so that you have 4 wedges.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Arrange the wedges snugly in the skillet, cut-sides down. Cook until slightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the wedges so that the other cut side is down in the skillet. Season with the salt and black pepper and cook until slightly colored, about 2 minutes more.
3. Pour the balsamic vinegar over the radicchio and then pour the chicken stock over. The pan should be about 1/2-inch full of liquid. Top off with additional balsamic or stock if needed. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the radicchio and then scatter the thyme sprigs in the skillet.
4. Partially cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the radicchio are crisp-tender when pierced with a knife through the base, 12 to 15 minutes, carefully turning the wedges once or twice. Remove the cover and continue to simmer until the radicchio is soft, 5 to 7 minutes more, turning once or twice to evenly coat and cook.
5. Using tongs, transfer the radicchio to a serving dish, gently squeezing any excess liquid back into the skillet. Continue to simmer the braising liquid until reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and taste for seasoning. You may need to add a little more salt and black pepper. There should be a balance of sweet, salt, bitter, and the kick of black pepper in the flavor.
6. Drizzle the syrup over the radicchio and serve warm.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

The Cold Season’s Answer to Vegetables:

Balsamic Braised Chicories

A spoonful of sugar helps the bitterness go away.

When the weather is frigid, and the garden has hunkered down for the winter, it’s time to turn to chicories. These leafy vegetables are our cold-season friends, packed with vitamins and nutrients, and winter’s replacement for sweet summer greens. While chicories are also referred to as “greens,” whites, reds, and purples may be more accurate descriptions. This broad group of leafy “greens” includes endive, escarole, frisée, Treviso, and radicchio.

Chicory leaves are hardy and often bitter, so it’s best to lean into their robust qualities, rather than pretend they are a substitute for mild-mannered lettuce. Team them up with equally strong flavors: sweet and sharp dressings, astringent citrus, smoky bacon, fruit, and nuts. And don’t be shy about using a little sugar, which will nicely offset their bracing bitterness.

Thanks to chicories’ sturdiness, they are great for braising, which is an appealing (and warm) way to get your veggies in the dead of winter. Braising will tame their strong flavor, and with a little extra sugar, amplify their natural sweetness.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds chicories, such as endive, radicchio, escarole

1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish

1. Trim the bases of the chicories. Halve the endives lengthwise and cut the radicchio and escarole into wedges.
2. Whisk the chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the chicories, cut-side down in the skillet and cook until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes, turning once.
4. Pour the balsamic mixture over and around the chicories, and scatter the sprigs over. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and simmer until the chicories are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice.
5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced and the chicories are slightly caramelized.
6. Discard the thyme sprigs. Season the chicories with additional salt to taste and serve warm, garnished with fresh thyme.