An antidote to the saccharine excess of the Christmas table, chicory’s crunchy, bitter leaves are not to everyone’s taste.
Chicory is more popular on the Continent where it is commonly known as witloof (from white leaf) and in the US, where it is called Belgian endive. The French even have a museum dedicated to the vegetable in Orchies, in the Calais region.
The commercially-grown vegetable has a pure white colour because the roots sprout in complete darkness but other varieties have a burgundy flush.
Citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and orange, work as a natural foil to the zesty bite of chicory leaves in a winter salad. The leaf also matches well with strong cheeses such as Roquefort or gorgonzola and can be poached, braised, stir-fried or baked and served with bacon, ham and pheasant. The website chicorychallenge.co.uk has scores of recipes using chicory in an audacious range of global dishes.
A raw chicory salad needs a dry, crisp acidic white wine such as a Soave or Lugana from Italy. The 2007 Soave Classico, Ronca (£3.98, Asda) is a bargain bottle made from hand-harvested garganega and trebbiano grapes, with a fresh, unoaked citrus palate.