Cicoria ripassata alla romana

Annnnd we're back! If my calculations are correct it has now been 3 whole days since The Big Meal, aka Thanksgiving, meaning that 1.) you stuffed yourself sufficiently on Thursday and 2.) have consequently been eating your way through those inevitable leftovers. It has thus been 72 + hours of heavy eating, meals laden with potato and gravy and stuffing and for the first day there even pie (everyone knows that any leftover pie is the first thing to go). I imagine you'll be trying to give your digestive system a little break before you begin your next round of holiday eating (gingerbread! panettone! Christmas roast! Christmas parties in general!). I bet you're craving something light, something vegetable-y, something virtuous, something green. Something maybe called cicoria?! Yes, yes, I thought so.

Cicoria -- called dandelion greens in English -- is incredibly popular here in the Eternal City, found year round on restaurant menus, ever present at the local markets. It is pretty to look at, with curly, unruly, emerald leaves -- greens with a perm! I always think -- that give it a festive and almost cheerful air. But not so fast: its friendly appearance contrasts with its flavor, strong and un-apologetically bitter as it is, miles away from more the more mild spinach or chard or any other lettuce you'd ever meet. This bitterness makes cicoria a controversial, love-it-or-hate-it leafy vegetable, and indeed, I have friends that openly wrinkle their noses at the very mention of our friend cicoria. I myself happen to land squarely in the I Love Cicoria! camp along with most Romans I know, finding its flavor deep, complex, and intense, a side dish with a little bite and a little personality. Traditionally, cicoria is eaten as an accompaniment to sausages or meat or in Puglia, as an accompaniment to pureed fava beans, but I've been known to unabashedly order a dish of it to accompany my bucatini all'amatriciana (my Roman friends have pointed out this isn't exactly an authentic or traditional way to eat cicoria -- I feign ignorance and/or emphasize that my American-ness is stronger than my Italian name). I also like it served with a nice helping of salty, pillowy pizza bianca or served just with toasted bread drizzled with a little olive oil. Yummm.

Cicoria ripassata alla romana -- cicoria, sauteed, Roman-style -- is cooked in lots of olive oil with a little garlic and peperoncino, and thus ties in perfectly with this month's round of Cucina Conversations, where our theme is olive oil (to honor November's olive harvest and subsequent pressing!) The recipe requires a bit more cooking time than you'd expect for a green, with 15 minutes of boiling, then 10 minutes of sauteing (as my friend Emily O. so succinctly summarized this cooking process: "I see, I see, so basically, you cook the sh*t out of it!") What Emily meant to say was that this long cooking -- the boiling especially -- helps to soften the bitter edge of the cicoria. The good amount of time in the saute pan allow the greens time to become simultaneously garlicky and spicy, deliciously silky and rich as they sizzle around in the olive oil, turning the leaves into spaghetti-like strands to be twirled gloriously around your fork and eaten with gusto. In other words: this is a side dish that may quite possibly make your main seem like the accompaniment (controversial, delicious, and a scene stealer!

Only a few notes today: Cicoria, like most other greens, shrinks immensely upon cooking. If 2 pounds of cicoria seems like a lot, it won't be when it hits the boiling water. I haven't put specific quantities for the olive oil, garlic, or hot pepper, because I always eyeball it -- enough olive oil to generously coat the pan and then some, and the other ingredients to taste. You can also use fresh or dried chili if you want, but I didn't have any on hand and so spiced things up with red pepper flakes. In the market you will sometimes see cicoria selvatica or cicoria da campo, which is a wild variety of cicoria, but you will more commonly  find cultivated cicoria. I have also used cicorietta here -- see photos below -- which is leafier and a little less unruly, with great results (to be honest, I still have to study up on all the different types of cicoria). In any case, I've used different varieties here all with good results. Finally, if you cannot find cicoria where you are, but are intrigued by the garlic/pepper/olive oil/ leafy green combo, you could also make a similar dish with spinach, kale, escarole, chard, or any other kind of green. Note that for more delicate greens like spinach, you will not to boil them in water first, and they will only need a few minutes in the pan, while a hearty green like kale could be first boiled then sauteed. 

Be sure to check out the other olive oil-centric posts from my fellow bloggers! This month's round-up, below:
Daniela at La Dani Gourmet, who has whipped up la farinata di cavolo nero con olio nuovo;
Flavia of Flavia's Flavors, who has made cannellini all'olio;
Lisa -- The Italian Kiwi -- who is sharing a recipe for patè di olive;

Rosemarie aka Turin Mamma, who will be sharing her recipe for bagna cauda.


CICORIA RIPASSATA

Ingredients:
2 pounds (1 kilo) cicoria
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic
Red pepper flakes or fresh chili
Salt and pepper

Directions:
Rinse the cicoria and pat it dry. Remove any leaves that are brown or no longer fresh and discard them.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then add the cicoria. Boil the cicoria for 10 minutes; drain. In the meantime, when the cicoria is reaching the end of its boiling time, heat a good amount of olive oil -- enough to coat the bottom of the pan, and then some -- in a large pan over medium heat. Add red pepper flakes or sliced chili to taste, as well as a clove or two of garlic. 
Let the olive oil and garlic start cooking and then add the cicoria to the pan. Saute the cicoria for 15 minutes, stirring, until wilted and well mixed with the garlic, olive oil, and chili.  
Season the cicoria to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.



6 comments :

  1. Wow. This is definitely the right break before begin with the next round of Christmas traditions. I am of those that unconditionally Love - it. Cicoria ripassata is also a good choice for a tasty Bruschetta.

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  2. I love bitter greens cooked this way. My mother and nonne often cooked the s_ _ T out of these, drained them and then sauteed them in oil when I was young. Easy, satisfying and a wonderful way of enjoying the taste of a good quality EVOO!

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  3. Lovely post Francesca! My mother didn't use to prepare cicoria, and I first tasted it as a grown-up. I love it with some good evoo. xo

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  4. A must dish at any time of year as far as I am concerned. My parents have it growing in their garden and swear by its nutritional properties. Must go and pick some now!

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  5. Such a great recipe to showcase olive oil! You can't do a "ripassata" without olive oil. It's one of my favorite preparations for greens. Bravissima!

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  6. The pie was indeed the first of the leftovers to disappear! LOL! I love cicoria too! I have to try this one to see if I can get my family to like it the same way I do. :) Thanks for the recipe!

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