The leaves are 10 to 15cm long and compressed into a compact, slender, pointed head..
In Northern Europe, the vegetable is also known as Belgian Endive because it has been popularized by the Belgians. To them it is an important winter vegetable.
Witloof production is very specialized, because it requires sophisticated equipment and careful management. It is a long season crop which needs to be started off in the field. Then it is stored for some time and eventually the roots are planted deep under the ground to keep them warm and dark. The seeds are planted from April to June and need to be well watered during the summer to ensure the development of a deep taproot. Above ground it produces a round cluster of leaves around its short stem (rosette). The roots are harvested in late summer and fall then exposed to cold temperatures for a while to ensure that the plants will develop their floral buds. After this period of cold storage, they are stacked in wooden crates and kept in dark forcing chambers. During this time the roots are only watered and the witloof (as we know it) can be harvested after about four weeks.
Witloof chicory can be grown successfully in a wide range of soil types. However best results are achieved by growing witloof in rotation with small grains such as rye, wheat and barley, because these crops leave the soil low in nitrogen, which is what witloof prefers. Witloof should be stored dark and cool, since the exposure to light will cause it to turn green.
Witloof is high in vitamin A and a good source of folic acid. For the best flavor, select heads that are small and compact with leaves that are tipped with light yellow color, not brown or green
The chicory in botanically called as Cichorium intybus and belongs to the composite family. It is close related to endive and is sometimes called French endive.
For thousands of years, these plants have been cultivated and almost all the great sages of Western medicine have used them in one remedy or another.
It was both a humble home remedy and a drug of choice for royalty.
Queen Elizabeth 1 of England took chicory broth for example.
According to Pliny chicory juice was mixed with rose oil and vinegar as a remedy for headache.
Growing chicory is a very old activity. The plant was in cultivation in Egypt, irrigated by the flooding of the Nile, about 5,000 years ago. Its name may have been derived from its Egyptian name.
Charlemagne respected it and listed it among the 75 herbs to be grown in his garden.
In sixteenth and seventeenth century herbals it was recommended for a motley collection of ailments.
Did you know:
Chicory flowers are a lovely sky blue the color of the most beautiful of blue eyes and the flowers close as if in sleep at night. Thus Culpeper an other herbalists recommended chicory water for “sore eye that inflamed.”
It is a very rich source of vitamins A, B, C and G. It also contains minerals.
In the United States, chicory is so common on roadsides that it’s hard to realize it’s not native, but all those miles of blue flowers we see today came from chicory imported by colonists.
One of the commissions in German recognized the herbs efficacy in the following areas:
Loss of appetite
Liver and gallbladder complaints
Serving size: 100 grams
Chicory with ham:
4 heads chicory
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) water
salt and freshly milled white pepper
50 g (2 oz) butter
4 x 100 g (4-oz) slices lean cooked ham
1 tablespoon flour
150 ml (1/4 pint) dry white wine
150 ml (1/4 pint) single cream
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon chopped parsley to garnish
1. Remove any limp outer leaves from the chicory and cut off some of the stalk. Bring the water and a generous pinch of salt to the boil in a large saucepan, add the chicory and simmer for 10 minutes.
2. Drain the chicory and leave it to one side until cold.
3. Grease an ovenproof dish with half the butter. Wrap each chicory head in a slice of ham and arrange in the dish.
4. Melt the remaining butter in a small pan, add and cook the flour until golden, then dilute with the white wine and bring to the boil, stirring continuously.
5. Stir the cream into the sauce, season with salt and pepper and pour the sauce over the chicory.
6. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and brown on the middle shelf of a moderately hot oven (200‚°C, 400‚°F, gas 6) for about 15 minutes. Before serving, sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
Serve with: French or wholemeal bread or parsley potatoes.