I sometimes wonder why Chicory is not more of a beloved vegetable. It certainly has got the potential to rival the likes of leeks and lettuce. I have a feeling that people are often put off by Chicory’s bitterness, unfortunately so. They don’t know what they’re missing!
When I was little we regularly had chicory – or chicon as I know it. Most often my mum would prepare a chicory and apple salad – the sweetness of the apple would perfectly balance the bitterness of the chicon. On other occasions we’d have a chicon gratin, covered in a thick bechamel sauce with slices of cooked ham and handfuls of cheese on it. Heaven.
I’ve never really come across much chicory in the UK. But my little fruit and veg shop up the road can be trusted to always surprise me with delights I’d nearly forgotten about! So when I caught sight of some chicory heads my heart jumped with joy! All the delicious dishes I could make with them, my head started racing. I settled on variations of the two dishes I loved from home: I made a chicory and beetroot salad, which was absolutely great except for the fact that the chicon turned out bright pink once it touched the beetroot. I also decided to bake with the chicons, but I instead of making my mum’s cheesy gratin I wanted to add a crunchy pastry dimension to my chicons. The idea for a Tarte Tatin was born.
I don’t know what is going on with me at the moment or what my body is trying to tell me, but I’ve been eating a hell of a lot of feta lately! Feta with butternut squash, feta in a savoury baklava, feta with beetroot – it must be because it’s the perfect ingredient to combine with autumn flavours.
So when I designed this Tarte Tatin in my mind, I decided it would need some feta. You see, once the chicoree is baked, it fully loses its bitterness and turns buttery in flavour, almost comparable to cooked leeks. It’s astonishing how versatile this vegetable is! So I figured that the mellow flavour of the chicon could do with a slight punch, a cheesy punch, a feta punch!
Just a quick word about Tarte Tatins. I am well aware of a Tarte Tatin phobia existing in many households. I myself suffered from this condition for a long time. Until I discovered that it’s as easy as pie (literally). All you need is a round cake tin! Forget the heavy ovenproof pans (if you’re blessed with one, use it by all means!), just use what you have! You can prepare the base – caramel and caramelizing of the chicory – in a heavy-bottomed pan, and then just transfer the whole lot over into a round cake tin. Just make sure you catch most of the caramel, otherwise it turns out quite diappointingly uncaramelized. But for the rest, easy peasy!
Chicory Tarte Tatin with Feta
50g unsalted butter
small bunch of fresh thyme (or 2 tbsp dried thyme)
3 chicory heads
one handful toasted pine nuts
1 roll of ready-rolled puff pastry (or about 250g puff pastry that you roll out yourself)
2 tbsp honey
Preheat the oven to 200° celsius.
Finely chop the onion. Melt half of the butter in an ovenproof pan (around 22cm diameter), and gently fry the onion in it for about 10 minutes until transluscent. Remove the fried onion from the pan and set aside.
Now melt the remaining butter and evenly spread the sugar on the butter. Let the butter sugar mix caramelize for a few minutes on a medium temperature.
In the meantime, wash the chicory heads and cut them in halves.
As soon as the sugar has caramelized, sprinkle the thyme leaves over and top with the chicory halves (cut-side down). Let the chicory caramelize over a low heat for a few more minutes.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle the crumbled feta over the chicory. Top with toasted pine nuts and onions. Then drape the puff pastry over the chicory mix, tuck in the edges on the side and prick the pastry with a fork in a few places.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Once baked, take the pan out of the oven, turn onto a serving platter and sprinkle with runny honey, then decorate it with a bit of feta and some thyme. This goes really well with a rocket side salad.