Chicory-obsessed farmer Stephen Carter raises some of the most beautiful examples of this treasured autumn vegetable at Scribe Winery in Sonoma County. Here the bittersweet produce stars in stunning fall recipes.

Various Kinds of Chicory
Varieties of chicory including, from left, Luisa, Treviso, Castelfranco, Rosalba, and Luisa. Photo by Thomas J. Story.

Stephen Carter can be obsessive: about clothes, vintage audio equipment, and chicories. Of all the vegetables the head farmer at Scribe Winery in Sonoma grows for the delightful dishes created by chef Kelly Mariani, chicories are his favorite. Carter vividly recalls the moment of his conversion. It was November at Green String Farm in Petaluma, where he was working at the time. “I was wearing thoroughly soaked Blundstones and had numb hands,” he says. “I remember the first time my harvest lead pulled a head of Lusia out of what I thought was a mound of old leaves. I had never seen a vegetable that looked like that. Leaves so white they seemed silver, with splashes of red and green.”

Kelly Mariani and Stephen Carter
Kelly Mariani and Stephen Carter

Thomas J. Story

At first, he wasn’t in love with the bitter taste, but it grew on him over time. “A plant that thrived in the harshest conditions, had a challenging flavor, and was shrouded in mystery. Of course I was hooked. First, I was dragging my partner to Green String Farm owner Bob Cannard’s house after a music festival for some seeds. Next thing you know we were smuggling seeds back from Lusia, Italy, in envelopes that still smelled like cigarettes.”

Hands Tossing Chicories

Thomas J. Story

Growing chicories can be challenging, so Carter suggests doing your advance work before committing to the long but rewarding process of cultivating them. For seeds, he suggests Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, Washington. “They partner with farmers out of Italy and offer planting guides specific to each variety. Oregon’s Culinary Breeding Network is also a great resource for growing advice.”

Radicchio on the Grill
How many greens can stand up to being on the grill?

Thomas J. Story

Planting can be tricky as varieties are bred to mature at different rates to ensure availability throughout the winter, but you should be ready to go near the summer solstice. Tending to this finicky beauty is where the network of fellow obsessives becomes vital. “I was initially drawn by the beauty of radicchio,” says Carter. “But the kindness and generosity of those I’ve met along the way has been the most unexpected part of this whole thing.” And here are gorgeous recipes to reward all that hard work.

Make These Chicory Salad Recipes at Home:

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