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Spadona chicory grows in clusters of long, straight, lance-like leaves with small, thin stems. The bright green leaves have a smooth surface with a thin center rib and rounded edges tapering to a point. The leaves are harvested when young and tender when they are less bitter. Mature leaves will take on a stronger flavor and may develop a slightly downy texture. Spadona chicory has a very bitter, earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness.
Spadona chicory is available in the late fall and winter months.
Spadona chicory is an Italian variety also known as Sword chicory, Spadona da Taglio and in Italy, Cicoria. Botanically classified as Cichorium intybus, the word ‘spadona’ comes from the name of a medieval Spanish sword and is a nod to its shape. Spadona chicory is known as a cutting variety of chicory. Unlike varieties of chicory that are harvested by the head, Spadona chicory has lengthy, loose leaves that are harvested individually.
Spadona chicory is a good source of vitamins B, C, and K. The leafy greens also contain potassium, choline, inulin, and small amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium.
Spadona chicory can be used in both its raw and cooked form. Its leaves are tender enough for salads, their bitter flavor marrying well in mixes containing milder, sweeter greens and herbs. Leaves can be sautéed or boiled into soups, stews and sauces. Blanching leaves before using will slightly mellow their bitter bite. Pair with salty and sweet ingredients such as pomegranate seeds, citrus, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, persimmon, cream-based sauces and dressings, toasted pecans, bacon and robust cheeses. Spadona chicory keeps best when wrapped in plastic, refrigerated, and used within one week.
Spadona chicory and other loose-leaf chicory varieties are very popular in Europe and mostly with home growers. The bitter, leafy greens appear on menus in the form of salads, sautéed or braised greens, and in sauces. Spadona chicory is considered an old-world mainstay of poor-man’s cooking or ‘cucina povera’.
Spadona chicory is native to the Veneto region of northern Italy which includes the city of Venice and sits on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The leafy greens thrive in cool climates and are resistant to frost. When harvested Spadona leaves are cut off just a few inches from their base allowing for regrowth and multiple cuttings. The bitter, leafy greens are most often spotted in Italy, Spain and areas where the winters are mild.