March is a tricky month for seasonal food, fruit and vegetables in particular. Most winter produce is coming to the end of its season whilst it is a little early for spring produce to come in.
My chosen ingredient for this week is Chicory, also known as Belgian Endive. I was drawn to the red variety in particular when browsing in a farm shop, thinking it would be a good subject to photograph. It is not a vegetable I have ever cooked, so I decided to give it a try.
It is in season in the UK from January to mid- March, so it just about at the end of the season. Like Rhubarb, it is a forced vegetable grown in darkness which accounts for the crisp, white leaves which are tipped with red or yellow. It has a distinctive shape and a mildly bitter flavour.
Chicory Root has been used as a coffee substitute for over two hundred years - it is believed to have originated in France during the 1800’s during a shortage of coffee. It remains popular today with anyone wishing to reduce their intake of caffeine. The root is roasted, ground and brewed into coffee. The taste is similar to real coffee but with a slightly woody, nutty flavour. For me it will never be a substitute for real coffee - it doesn’t even come close!
Chicory leaves are packed with antioxidant lactones and Vitamins - specifically A and C. They are a source of fibre and the minerals calcium, manganese, iron and potassium. They are also low in calories.
This is a vegetable that requires little preparation. It can be eaten raw in salads but it can also be roasted, braised and added to stir fries and soups. I am sure I have eaten it in a salad in a restaurant but I have never bought it to eat at home. Looking for a recipe, I decided I wanted something to accompany another dish such as a roast and I found this simple but very tasty recipe from Waitrose.com.
Baked Chicory with Caramelized Onions
It takes just five minutes to prepare and needs half an hour in the oven. With a subtle, sweet and sour flavour that comes from brown sugar and cider vinegar, and warmth from chilli, it is the perfect accompaniment to roast chicken.
This is the first recipe featured on the blog that didn’t look so photogenic when it came out of the oven. Thankfully I had photographed it just before it went in and the vegetable looked vibrant - they lose their colour in the cooking process.
I decided on a light backdrop for this subject and, once again, was lucky with the light. The lengthening days do make it much easier for a predominantly natural light photographer. Shooting overhead can be tricky when there are a number of items in the frame - especially bowls and jars. It is difficult not to have them end up looking like they are falling out of the photo. I tend to shoot handheld when I am pushed for time - setting up the tripod can be time consuming and I am never totally convinced there is no movement when the shutter is released. I feel I have more control handheld but it is back breaking work.
So this was Week 10 - a few days late and it is already mid March. Just a couple of weeks to longer days with the change in the clocks and the prospect of new and exciting produce becoming more available.
Until next week.