Now, if you find the notion of a sauteed green eliciting pure joy in grown adults to be strange, then you haven't been to Italy during the cooler months of the year. It's more exciting than spinach, more delicate than various wild greens like dandelion or collard. As Gordon Gekko might proclaim: wild chicory, for lack of a better word, is GOOD.
And in trattorie all over Rome, it's prepared ripassata in padella: once the greens are parboiled to remove some of the bitterness, they're tossed back in a hot pan with garlic, olive oil, and a healthy pinch of spicy peperoncino. This produces a side dish so simple in its awesomeness as to render most other green vegetables...unimportant. When restaurants run out of the dish before all of their customers have ordered, you will hear sighs and gasps coming from tables when they're told the bad news, "la cicoria e' terminata." Faces are long, hopes are lost. Nothing can replace it. At least until the following day, or until the springtime when artichokes are in season...
CICORIA RIPASSATA IN PADELLA
2 large bunches of chicory
extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
hot pepper flakes
salt to taste
-Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
-Cut stems off chicory and rinse the leaves. (Discard stems or slice and use for puntarelle). Add to pot and boil until soft and cooked through.
-Prepare a bowl of ice water. Remove chicory from boiling water and “shock” in ice water to stop cooking.
-Once cold, remove from ice water, drain, and pat dry.
-Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a skillet. Add peeled whole garlic cloves and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove garlic.
-Add chicory and toss to coat.
-Add red pepper flakes to desired “heat”, and salt to taste.
-Cook for about 3 minutes to heat through, and so chicory absorbs flavor of the garlic oil. Serve at once or at room temperature drizzled with red wine vinegar.