Wild Chicory Spaghetti

Our friends from Rome, the Mancinis, came to stay with us on the farm for Easter. Guido Mancini is a great cook and we often swap recipes, chat about new things we’ve cooked and I make him taste things like MarGuido and Maria picking wild chicory in Le Marche, Italymite (which he tried with a pancake of all things) and strange liquors made with juju berries.

When I was showing him and his daughter Maria around the grove Guido got very excited by all the wild chicory growing there. I’d never really noticed it before, and I can’t say I was convinced that it would be edible, let alone tasty. Anyway, playing the accommodating host I helped him and Maria collect a decent bucketful of the stuff and we carted it back to the house with a rumbling tummy ready for lunch.

Proving what an accomplished cook he is Guido made one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten.  His trick was to half cook the pasta in water and then finish it off mixed in with the chicory and chilli and anchovies so that it soaks up the flavour and gives a nice starchy gooey consistency to the sauce.

Ingredients for 4 people

Spaghetti – 400g/14oz (or any pasta you fancy)
Wild chicory – 500g/18oz (plain chicory is available in most supermarkets)
Chilli – one dried one, chopped
Anchovies in olive oil – 3 fillets (optional)
Garlic – 2 cloves
Extra virgin olive oil – 5 tablespoons
Parmesan – 75g/2.6oz grated
Black olives (optional)

Wash the chicory well, cut it up roughly and put it to boil in plenty of salted water. Boil for 15 minutes or until the thicker bits are soft. Drain.  Boil a pan of water for the spaghetti. In a big pan or wok heat the oil on a low flame and add the garlic roughly cut into quarters, the anchovies and the chilli pepper. After a few minutes add the chicory and cook slowly for another 10 minutes. Add the spaghetti to the water and cook for about 5 minutes until ‘half’ cooked. Then spoon out the semi-cooked spaghetti into the chicory mixture (keeping the spaghetti water) and mix well.

Add the spaghetti water to the pasta/chicory one ladle-full at a time (like cooking risotto) and keep on stirring. When the spaghetti is nearly cooked add the grated parmesan, leaving a bit to sprinkle at the end, and mix well. This method gives you quite a creamy sauce, so that’s what you should be aiming for. Check for salt and serve. If you use short pasta instead of spaghetti it’s a bit easier because as Guido say ‘non si fa casino’, ‘you don’t make such a mess’.


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17 Responses to Wild Chicory Spaghetti

  1. I’m trying to picture what wines would pair well with this dish. Maybe only an eclectic white wine would do?


  2. I think we would have had it with a cheap, local verdicchio, but I’ll ask Guido what he’d suggest (he’s a bit of a wine buff too you see!).

    Ciao for now,


  3. Guido recommends a Grignolino which is a red from Piedmont , not too heavy and is qwaff. Or a pinot nero, but only one vinified in stainless steel vats rather than wood. So without the oaky wood flavour. See, I knew he would have a good answer…

  4. Hi, interesting recipe. Makes me want to experiment in the kitchen now!

  5. This is an excellent combination of ingredients! Delicious!

    I grow this chicory in my garden, also radicchio which is essentially the same species, and cooked the same way. They also have many health benefits.
    I like to make a similar dish, though the ingredients vary from time to time. One of my favorite is with wild mushrooms and sweet red peppers, and most always fresh garlic. The younger leaves require less cooking, and are less bitter. A little butter in the sauce is fantastic. If the leaves are older and quite bitter, a little dash of something sweet and sour is interesting.
    Chicory is also a good addition to Spaghetti Carbonara, and is used in numerous Asian dishes where it is also popular.

    Today I had a stir fry of radicchio, shitake mushroom, kung pao chillis, garlic flowers, free range ground beef, and pasta. I like to cook the pasta al dente before mixing it all together, but will try the half cooked trick next time for extra creamy sauce. Thanks for the tips!

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  8. This was great! I used rotilli pasta. I also added one whole can of ceci beans, rinsed and drained. I just wish I had more chicory. Next time, I will use a whole head of it!

  9. thank you for the recipe i do grow chicory but have never used it, which part and when do you harvest? sorry may seem a silly question . love the oils looking forward to new oils thanks lyn b

  10. Is the chicory found on the roadside fit for eating? I have read many pros about chicory but it never tells you if it is wild or cultivated? Also,read that wild was poisonous but you ate it and must be doing well?

  11. Hello Todd – yes, ours was wild chirory straight from the grove.

  12. Can you tell us what part of the chicory did you use in your pasta dish?

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  14. Hi Jason,

    I just made this dish and am blown away at how good it is. We have a small organic farm in Northern California and I have been growing a “Wild Garden Chicory” for years, never knowing how to use it because I was repelled by it’s bitterness. Cooked Guido’s way the bitterness completely went away.I harvested huge leaves from one of our veggie beds (the chicory self-seeded and comes up everywhere now), easily 12 inches long. This really is one of the best past dishes ever! Thank you for sharing this… I love your website and the ‘Adopt an olive tree’ efforts.


    • Astrid – so lovely to hear from you! I will tell Guido you used his recipe, and I’m sure he will be very happy. Keep up the good work with your organic farm.

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