The Greens of Summer: Frisee’

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This is one of my favorite members of the chicory family to use in salads, and is a rugged and tolerant plant besides. Planted at the same time as lettuce, it comes along a little later. I start my early crop indoors for use in late April, and the later crop from seeds planted outdoors as soon as the ground unfreezes. Deep containers work fine, and it tolerates a little shade without fuss. Thin the plants to at least 8″ apart each way so that they have room to grow. When you have a big green fuzzball about 9″ across, it’s time to blanch. Simply invert a dinner plate on the plant and leave it there anywhere from 3 to 5 days, depending on how blanched you want it. I like mine only moderately blanched, as shown above, because at that stage the underlying chicory bitterness is still detectable. If you want yours milder, wait the full five days before cutting.

     Remove the plate, harvest the whole plant about 1-2 inches above the ground with kitchen shears, wash well, and enjoy. When cutting, avoid injuring the crown, and leave the plant in place. Most of the time it will produce another somewhat smaller head, which you can blanch and eat in its turn.

     When dressing a frisee’ salad, I prefer bold vinaigrettes. This is an occasion for a little roasted garlic in the dressing, or slice a small shallot very finely and marinate it in the vinegar for 15 minutes before completing the vinaigrette. This is a good place for your flavorful homemade red wine vinegar (see my post on making vinegar.) Bold and peppery Tuscan-style olive oils are good. A little crumbled bacon or crisped proscuitto on top is wonderful. And consider a dash of colatura (garum) in the dressing; see the “notes on specialty ingredients” section on my website.I like sturdy romaines in these salads, but this is not a place for tender butter lettuces. Thyme or the new, tender leaves of winter savory or (best of all, in my view) the exquisite blue blossoms of common sage are good herbal flavorings. Just for fun, I’ll add a pictture of a recent frisee’ and romaine salad, made in the brief sage blossom season.
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