The Cichorium endivia crispum, commonly known as curly endive or escarole, is a typical winter vegetable that can be easily grown in a home garden. This leafy green can be consumed both raw and cooked. Let’s explore its properties, how to cultivate it using blanching techniques, and organic pest defense tips.
Additionally, we’ll share a simple holiday recipe from Calabria (Italy) that will help us savor our curly endive to the fullest.
Characteristics of Curly Endive
Curly endive is a vegetable belonging to the botanical family Compositae. It features a characteristic rosette-shaped head with a very short stem. Bright green, curly leaves branch out from the stem, overlapping as they grow. Inside the head, they form a cluster known as the heart, which is whitish in color.
The size of the curly endive heart varies depending on the species and blanching technique (if applied).
Curly Endive Varieties
The main varieties of curly endive are:
- Ruffec Endive
- Golden Heart
- Pancalieri Endive
- Monaco Winter Giant
Curly Endive Cultivation, Sowing, and Transplanting
Curly endive is a winter vegetable, and its cultivation begins in the autumn months. For example, if sown in early October in a seedbed, the small seedlings will be ready for transplanting around October 20. Consequently, the head will be ready for harvest around Christmas. The calculation is simple: it takes about 20 days to go from seed to seedling and about 60 days from transplanting to harvest.
While October is the classic example of the planting period, this species is highly resistant to cold, so you can start later in the autumn or even in the heart of winter for a spring harvest. In the latter case, it is advisable to use a cold tunnel for frost protection.
You can also opt for spring sowing, although it is not very common in the south. In this case, the time is reduced, and you can have a mature head in about 45 days after transplanting.
The curly endive produces a very voluminous head, so it is advisable to leave adequate space between each plant. A distance of 25-30 cm between each plant and 50 cm between rows is recommended.
Soil, fertilization, and irrigation
The ideal soil for the growth of curly endive is soft and well-worked, ensuring proper drainage.
The use of organic biological fertilizer is discouraged before sowing, as excess nitrogen could lead to imbalanced growth. Ideally, transplant the young plants in a portion of soil previously used for heavier crops. Classic examples include zucchini or tomatoes, crops that use manure or compost for fertilization.
As for irrigation, this plant prefers a certain level of soil moisture. Therefore, it is necessary to irrigate regularly during dry periods. Especially during the initial growth phase, ensure that the soil remains consistently moist. Therefore, it is advisable to set up a drip irrigation system.
Of course, it is essential to avoid water stagnation, which could cause basal rot. Artificial irrigation can be suspended if the plants are in open fields and regular rainfall occurs, which is frequent in autumn.
For the cultivation of curly endive, natural mulching is highly recommended. It helps maintain soil moisture and prevents problems with weed infestations. Moreover, and most importantly, it protects the plant from potential rot caused by direct contact with moist soil.
Blanching is a special agronomic technique applied to various types of crops. This technique allows for more tender heads with a whiter heart. For proper blanching, first gather the leaves and then tie them together with an elastic band or string. The heads of curly endive to be blanched must be perfectly dry.
This practice is carried out when the plants are about ¾ through their vegetative cycle. Depending on external temperatures, blanching can last from 10 to 20 days. It is an operation that accelerates head maturation, so it is advisable to do it in a staggered manner. This way, we’ll have a more spread-out production of curly endive over time.
Another advantage of blanching is that it prevents the leaves from coming into direct contact with the soil, which can cause rot.
After the blanching period, our Cichorium endivia crispum is ready for harvesting and consumption.
Biological pest defense
Fortunately, curly endive does not suffer from specific pest attacks. The parasitic insects that require greater attention are slugs, which we have extensively discussed, and black aphids.
In organic agriculture, products for aphids must be used preventively. Specifically, the fight against black aphids is done with natural macerates, especially nettle macerate and garlic infusion.
In the case of severe infestations already underway, neem oil can be used (available here).
Properties of Curly Endive
Curly endive is a vegetable with excellent nutritional properties. It has a very low caloric content, only 17 kcal per 100 gr, but it has a high content of fiber, 1.6 gr per 100 gr.
Its fibers contain inulin, a very important element that helps reduce cholesterol and glucose levels in the blood. Therefore, this vegetable is particularly suitable for combating diabetes and obesity.
Moreover, it is a vegetable that is very rich in minerals, especially potassium, with 380 mg per 100 gr. For this reason, curly endive helps combat water retention in the body.
Finally, it is a surprisingly vitamin-rich vegetable, especially in terms of Vitamin C, with 35 mg per 100 gr, and Vitamin A (retinol).
Its taste has a typical bitter trait that gives it a structured and superior flavor compared to many types of salad. It is crisp and crunchy, and it is consumed both raw (recommended) and cooked.
Now let’s see a simple recipe to enjoy it to the fullest.
Recipe for Curly Endive “a Mappina”
The recipe for Curly Endive “a Mappina” belongs to the territory of Cosenza and is usually prepared during Christmas night. This dish is typically paired with fish-based dishes.
To prepare it, you will need:
- 4 hearts of curly endive
- hot red chili pepper (to taste)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- salt, extra virgin olive oil, lemon.
The procedure is quite simple. Wash the hearts of Cichorium endivia crispum, chop them, and place them in a glass bowl. Add the chopped hot red chili pepper, peeled and chopped garlic, salt, olive oil, and lemon.
Mix well, and place a plate with some weight on top of the salad (hence “a Mappina”). Put it in the fridge and let it rest for 24 hours. Once this is done, the dish is ready. Simple, isn’t it? Enjoy your meal!
- ResearchGate – “Effect of Molybdenum Rate on Yield and Quality of Lettuce, Escarole, and Curly Endive Grown in a Floating System” – This study investigates the effect of molybdenum on the yield and quality of lettuce, escarole, and curly endive grown in a floating system.
- PubMed – “Biofortification: Effect of Iodine Fortified Food in the Healthy Population, Double-Arm Nutritional Study” – This study investigates the effects of iodine fortified food, including curly endive, on the healthy population.