Also known as Asparagus Endive or cichoria di catalogna, this is one of the rarest, most unrecognized garden vegetables of all in North America. It's also an absolute delicacy. In the garden, it looks like many other chicories, with tall, upright, dandelion-like leaves that grow to 40cm (16"), forming a rosette. The leaves are technically edible, but quite bitter — cooking will reduce the bitterness substantially. But the real business of the Puntarelle happens as the plant begins to send up a flower stalk from the centre of the rosette. The central stem produces a dozen or more side shoots that are crisp and hollow, and ribbed on the inside like celery.
The immature stems are harvested and split into thin strips along their length, and then immersed in ice water. After soaking for about an hour, they curl into the most delightful, crunchy, refreshing coils. Traditionally, they form the base for the salad known as Puntarelle alla Romana, which uses a dressing of emulsified garlic and anchovy with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We tried it. It's delicious! These centre portions of the flower stalk are slightly bitter, but pleasantly so, like radicchio, yet sweeter.
The plants are cold hardy for spring, summer, or fall harvests. Cut the whole plant at the soil level, and (like many chicories) more heads will grow back.
Matures in 70 days. (Open-pollinated seeds)
The chicory family includes the food plants endive and radicchio, which range widely in shape, and in flavour from bitter to sweet. All varieties become sweeter, and lose much of their bitterness, when cooked. Try a hot oil salad dressing over endive, or a barbecued head of radicchio. Continue reading below for tips on how to grow endive and radicchio from seed.
Cichorium endiva (endive) & C. intybus (radicchio)
Endive is easy.
Radicchio is moderately difficult.
Belgian endive (witloof) is downright challenging – but worth the effort.
Season & Zone
Season: Cool season
Sow after the last frost date and again in mid-summer to take advantage of the fall growing season. Optimal soil temperature: 10-22°C (50-72°F). Seeds sprout in 2-15 days, depending on conditions. In hot weather plants may go to seed quickly, so have new plantings ready to go.
Either direct seed or start indoors and transplant. Sow seeds 5mm (¼”) deep, and thin or transplant to allow 30-45cm (12-18″) between plants in rows 30-45cm (12-18″) apart.
Days to Maturity
From direct sowing.
Ideal pH: 6.0-6.5. Enrich soil with compost and add ¼ cup balanced organic fertilizer into the soil beneath each transplant. Rapid, continuous growth is essential for good yields and high quality. Regular watering is essential. Fall plantings can be protected from rain by putting a cloche over them. Endive heads can be blanched to reduce bitterness by placing a cardboard or plastic disc on top. Radicchio requires a good supply of phosphorus and potassium, but will not head and may bolt if there is too much nitrogen available. Days to maturity shown are from date of direct sowing. If transplanting, subtract 10-15 days.
Use as a cut and come again crop or let the heads develop and cut at ground level. Many will grow back.
In optimal conditions at least 65% of seeds will germinate. Usual seed life: 3 years. Per 100′ row: 140 seeds, per acre: 40.6M seeds.
Diseases & Pests
Aphids – Water can be used to remove aphids from plants. Wash the plant off with water occasionally as needed early in the day.
Moulds and rot from heavy rains can be prevented by growing under cover. Tip burn is a calcium deficiency within the plant that can be caused by an imbalance with over nutrients. Make sure to add lime to the soil, do not over-fertilize, and harvest just before full maturity.