Peter Barrett’s Chicory Pesto | Kitchen Vignettes for PBS
If you've never had chicory, talk to Peter Barrett. His love for this little-known green is contagious. A prolific food writer, teacher and gardener, Peter is the author of the book "Project 258: Making...

If you've never had chicory, talk to Peter Barrett. His love for this little-known green is contagious. A prolific food writer, teacher and gardener, Peter is the author of the book "Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish & Game" and the host of "CookPod", a podcast featuring culinary talents. He grows, preserves, and cooks as much of his own food as possible at his home in New York State. I grow a lot of green vegetables in my garden: kale, chard, lettuce, arugula, mustard… but now I realize that I have only skimmed the surface of the wonderful world of leafy plants. Especially the bitter ones. I never really thought about growing chicory. After all, it's not very well known here in North America and many of us don't know how to cook with it. But after meeting Peter and filming this episode (a chicory pesto love letter) I can't wait until next spring because guess what I'm gonna plant a ton in my garden?

Chicory pesto

Peter was introduced to chicory in Italy, while living in Rome in his twenties. He first tasted it in "cicoria ripassata" which means chicory cooked twice, a classic dish of chicory boiled then sautéed that can be found on most menus of Roman restaurants, from the most humble of establishments to the most chic. . And from there, Peter's love for everything chicory was cemented. In his home garden in the Hudson Valley, he now grows red, pink, dark green and pale, large and small varieties.

Chicory pesto

Chicory is part of the bitter green family which includes endives, radicchio, treviso, curly, escarole and dandelion. Many varieties of chicory are native to Italy, and for farmers and gardeners there are many varieties to choose from. A wonderful attribute of the chicory family is that they are very cold hardy, which makes them well suited to the short growing season of northern climates. In fact, with a little effort, they can be grown year round, even in cold, snowy winters.

Chicory pesto

As soon as you start chatting with Peter, you immediately start learning new things about food that you didn't know. It's no wonder he found his calling teaching cooking classes and writing about food. When Peter says he's experimenting extensively with the crops he grows in his garden, he's not kidding. Her pantry is stocked with an amazing array of homemade concoctions ranging from vinegars to mustards, shoyus to misos and everything in between. Basically, if he grew it, he probably fermented, smoked, dehydrated, cured, or pickled it too. Browsing her instagram feed is intriguing and mind-enriching: you'll see two-year-old sweet corn miso, spruce-tip vinegar, homemade pasta, cold cuts, and unique recipes influenced by the culinary traditions of the France and Italy, two of the countries where he leads culinary tours. He also makes maple syrup each spring, grows his own mushrooms, and grows an incredible amount of food in the 30 or so permanent beds that populate his front yard. During the filming of this episode, I was particularly mesmerized by a 7 or 8 foot high plant bed covered with bulging pods. Sesame plants, he explained. Who knew you could grow your own sesame seeds right here in the Northeast ?!

Chicory pesto

Peter's chicory pesto immediately caught my eye because it's a recipe he learned over 20 years ago from his friend Richard Zukowski, a master healer and prolific gardener who called him "green mash." . Richard recently passed away and the recipe took on new meaning for Peter, in this particular way the recipes often carry the spirit of the people who passed them on to us, even after they left. It's also a recipe that teaches us to befriend the bitterness of chicory, something that Peter says can significantly expand our culinary palate. In his words: "The fat from the pine nuts and oil helps tame the bitterness of the chicory, and the mash is sublime with anything from vegan lentils to an almost rare slice of beef - which Richard called it “land sushi”.

Chicory pesto

For his chicory pesto, Peter likes to use a variety of Italian chicory called Pan di Zucchero which means sugar loaf. Its light green head is shaped like a rugby ball. Peter chooses it for its lively, almost sweet note that hides in the midst of bitterness. As Peter says, "If you get familiar with chicory and other bitter plants, you can unlock some of the most invigorating and addicting flavors available to balance a plate of food." Not only that, but the bitterness of chicory and many other plants has proven to be extremely nutritious for us, in part because they contain anti-cancer compounds. So if, like me, you are new to the chicory world, this recipe is the perfect introduction to this wonderful world. Enjoy!


  • 1 head (about 1 lb) of Pan di Zucchero or other chicory (escarole, curly, dandelion, radicchio, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a skillet
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard (optional)
  • Good extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt


  1. Chop the chicory into thin strips, then chop it crosswise to break it down further. If you are using a food processor, add everything except the oil to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine everything, then add oil while running it until you get the consistency you want. Taste the seasoning, adjust if necessary and serve.
  2. If you are using a suribachi or a mortar and pestle, start by crushing the garlic and pine nuts with a little salt. Add a little vinegar to help loosen the dough from the bottom of the bowl, then start adding handfuls of greens and a little oil and mash them into the dough. Continue to add greens, as well as oil, letting each addition incorporate and break down before adding more. When the greens are all incorporated - it will be a mixture of fine and larger pieces - add the rest of the vinegar, salt, mustard if using, mix well, taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary and serve .

Aube Giroux is a food writer, award-winning James Beard documentary filmmaker and organic gardening enthusiast and home cook, who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen thumbnails.

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