Two recipes for endive | A Kitchen in Rome

The second nearest trattoria to our flat is our local. I have long given up on trying to be objective about Piatto Romano; years of meals, celebrations, consolations and over-familiarity means it is in its own odd category. We know its strengths and failings; the things we like to eat (and things we don’t), and in what order. We know the thick smells to expect when we walk through the door; the weight of the tumblers and fabric of the orange napkins; the way the salty crackers crumble; and the trolley.

The trolley sits in the arch between the two rooms; occasionally it is trundled across the second room to a table. But most of the time it sits up against the yellow wall, a static mobile home for seven or eight large white dishes containing vegetables: mostly boiled, some braised, others baked, boring or trusty, depending on your point of view. The vegetables vary depending on the time of year, but not as much as you would imagine: they’re invariably green.

This is because Rome is full of green, and especially at this time of year, when markets and shops are fully charged with spinach and chard, cabbage, literally tonnes of artichokes, fluorescent broccoli romani, kale, celery, borage, tufty mixes of wild greens, chicory and endive that have grown wild for thousands of years, and still do, but are also cultivated. An abundance of green that is rarely reflected in trattorias, osterias and pizzerias, and their usual offering of one chicory, one potato and one green salad.

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But the trolley at Piatto Romano offers plain green satisfaction: cooked well, and served as they come. Artichokes braised whole until murky green and velvet-soft, or fried until a bronze crisp; bitter green salads whose ability to wince and pucker have been tamed by washing, and a dressing of anchovy and sumac. There is also a sense of function: the greens doing a job. The classic roman pastas, thick and rich with guanciale and pecorino, braised rabbit or veal with chestnut-coloured gravy, all seem to demand a twisted pile of spinach, bitter chicory or endive, whether boiled in well-salted water or braised in their own juices.

It is the endives I particularly like at this time of year, the unruly wig of indivia frisée and the broad, smooth and gently ruffled-leaved scarola (AKA escarole or batavia). Like chicory, the endive family – wild cicoria, catalogna, radicchio and forced witloof (confusingly called French endive) – belong to the genus Cichorium, which in turn belongs to the asteraceae family, which includes lettuce and dandelion. While they do share in common the bitter cichorium gene, endive, curly frisée and escarole are also sweet – especially the pearly white stem – and can be eaten as a sturdy salad.

I like scarola: the whole head picked over, washed, dried and ripped into bite-sized pieces, and thoroughly dressed (six tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of honey vinegar, one tablespoon of balsamic or red-wine vinegar, and some salt), then tossed again with sliced pear and gorgonzola, or bacon and toasted hazelnuts, or served with a bitter orange, anchovy and garlic dressing.

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Then there is cooked endive, the idea of which I found bizarre; counterintuitive, even, until I realised that the sturdy leaves are transformed in the same way as pak choi, from crunchy to plump and velvet-like. I have lost objectivity about this dish, and I like everything about it: washing the leaves in cold water so I get red hands, and the smell of the garlic and chilli. I like the way it collapses into a pile of sweet, bitter, sour, hot flavours, which I always get stuck in my teeth.

Scarola in padella (braised escarole with olives, pine nuts and currants)

Escarole cooked in this way make the filling of Neapolitan pizza di scarola, which has an olive oil crust. Today it is a trolley or side dish for fish or meat, grilled cheese or rice.

Prep 10 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

1 large head scarola or frisée
6 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
, peeled and crushed but still whole
1 good pinch dried red chilli flakes
1 handful black olives
1 handful pine nuts
1 handful currants

Break the head of the scarola or frisée into leaves, discarding any that are either damaged, very large or tough. Wash in plenty of cold water, then drain and blot well.

In your largest frying pan over a medium-low heat, warm the oil, garlic, chilli, olives, pine nuts and currants, until the garlic is lightly golden (but watch it doesn’t burn).

Add the leaves to the pan. Use two wooden spoons to press and turn the leaves, which will wilt down. Cook, stirring often, for five minutes, until the excess water evaporates.

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Add salt and more oil to taste, cook for a couple more minutes, then serve.

Scarola, pear and gorgonzola salad

Prep 15 min
Serves 4 as a side

1 large head scarola or frisée
6 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red-wine or balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey vinegar
100g gorgonzola
, broken into pieces
1 large, ripe pear, peeled and sliced

Break the head of the scarola or frisée into leaves, discarding any that are either damaged, very large or tough. Wash in plenty of cold water, then drain and blot well.

Make the dressing by shaking or whisking together the olive oil, vinegar, a little of the cheese and a pinch of salt.

Rip the leaves into bite-sized pieces and put into a large bowl. Pour over the dressing and use your hands to toss really well. Add the pears and remaining cheese, then toss again before serving.


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