Gay greens: the Big Two

In my Columbus OH household, the residents had a name for a particular category of foodstuffs, especially as salad ingredients: gay greens, taking in, for instance: arugula (or rocket), radicchio, watercress, mâche (or corn salad), fennel, (curly) endive, Belgian endive, flat (or Italian) parsley, and basil (especially the fancy varieties). (Sprouts of all kinds are hippie greens.) The association with queers comes primarily from these being fashionable foodstuffs, connected in many people’s minds with fancy cooking, adventurous dining, and foodie enthusiasm — activities that are also associated with gay men. Plus the widespread attitude that green salads are “unmanly” food: Real Men eat red meat, not green salads.

(The association of these foodstuffs with queers will no doubt come as a surprise to many Italian-Americans, not to mention actual Italians, who are accustomed to them as everyday ingredients.)

Today I’ll look at the Big Two of the gay greens, arugula and radicchio (noting that I am very fond of them both).

Quoted in a posting, “That’s so gay”, this section of Pansy Division’s song “C.S.F.” (for “Cock Sucking Faggot”), listing some gay foodstuffs (but unaccountably leaving out arugula):

If you ask me to dinner you’d better feed me
Honeydew, penne pasta, goat cheese, herbal tea
Some Perrier (so you say), some quiche lorraine (so you say)
Focaccia (so you say), radicchio (so you say)

On to the plants and their use as food. Wikipedia on arugula / rocket:

Eruca sativa (syn. E. vesicaria subsp. sativa (Miller) Thell., Brassica eruca L.), is an edible annual plant, commonly known as salad rocket, roquette, rucola, rugula, colewort; or, in the United States, where it is very popular, arugula. … Salad rocket is a species of Eruca native to the Mediterranean region, from Morocco and Portugal in the west to Lebanon and Turkey in the east. … The Latin adjective sativa in the plant’s binomial is derived from satum, the supine of the verb sero, meaning “to sow”, indicating that the seeds of the plant were sown in gardens.

… Vernacular names include salad rocket, garden rocket, or simply rocket (British, Australian, Canadian, South African and New Zealand English), eruca, and arugula (American English). All names ultimately derive from the Latin word eruca, a name for an unspecified plant in the family Brassicaceae [or Cruciferae], probably a type of cabbage.

… Before the 1980s salad rocket was comparatively little known in the English-speaking world outside of immigrant Italian communities and among devotees of Italian cooking, but by 2006 the green had become a marker for culinary sophistication, upward mobility, multiculturalism, and even elitism. Vanity Fair writer and editor David Kamp gave his book about the spread of American mass-media culinary sophistication the prophetic title: The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation (Clarkson Potter, 2006).

A rocket flower, showing the characteristic four petals of the crucifer (‘cross-bearing’) family:


Then some rocket leaves, plain:


and served as a salad, with vinaigrette, accompanying hummus, tapenade, and bruschetta, plus flatbread (fashionable food at Gordon Biersch):


I’ll come back to the crucifers in an appendix to this posting. But now on to radicchio, and the chicories, endives, and escarole: a morass of common names.

Wikipedia on radicchio:

Radicchio … is a leaf chicory (Cichorium intybus, Asteraceae), sometimes known as Italian chicory, and is a perennial. It is grown as a leaf vegetable which usually has white-veined red leaves. It has a bitter and spicy taste, which mellows when it is grilled or roasted.

… Modern cultivation of the plant began in the fifteenth century, in the Veneto and Trentino regions of Italy, but the deep-red radicchio of today was engineered in 1860 by the Belgian agronomist Francesco Van den Borre, who used a technique called imbianchimento (whitening), preforcing, or blanching to create the dark red, white-veined leaves. Radicchio plants are taken from the ground and placed in water in darkened sheds, where lack of light and ensuing inhibition of chlorophyll production cause the plants to lose their green pigmentation. [See this website, devoted to “Endive. Belgium’s gift to the world”.]

… In Italy, where the vegetable is quite popular, it is usually eaten grilled in olive oil, or mixed into dishes such as risotto: in the United States it is gaining in popularity but is more often eaten raw in salads.

Heads of radicchio:


Material on using radicchio in salads will follow. But first I’ll finish the discussion of the plants. The word from Wikipedia on the chicories in general:

Common chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant [in the aster, or composite, family — Asteraceae or Compositae] usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink. Various varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, chicons (blanched buds), or for roots (var. sativum), which are baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive. It is also grown as a forage crop for livestock. It lives as a wild plant on roadsides in its native Europe, and in North America and Australia, where it has become naturalized.

Common chicory, the weed:


“Chicory” is also the common name in the United States for curly endive (Cichorium endivia); these two closely related species are often confused.

Curly endive:


… Common chicory is also known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor’s buttons, and wild endive. (Note: “Cornflower”, is more commonly applied to Centaurea cyanus.) Common names for varieties of var. foliosum include endive, radicchio, Belgian endive, French endive, red endive, sugarloaf and witloof (or witlof).

… Cultivated chicory is generally divided into three types, of which there are many varieties:

— Radicchio usually has variegated red or red and green leaves. Some only refer to the white-veined red leaved type as radicchio. Also known as red endive and red chicory. It has a bitter and spicy taste, which mellows when it is grilled or roasted. It can also be used to add color and zest to salads.

— Sugarloaf looks rather like cos lettuce, with tightly packed leaves.

— Belgian endive, also known as French endive, known in Dutch as witloof or witlof, endive or (very rarely) witloof in the United States, chicory in the UK, as witlof in Australia, endive in France, and chicon in parts of northern France and in Wallonia. It has a small head of cream-coloured, bitter leaves. It is grown completely underground or indoors in the absence of sunlight in order to prevent the leaves from turning green and opening up (etiolation). The plant has to be kept just below the soil surface as it grows, only showing the very tip of the leaves. It is often sold wrapped in blue paper to protect it from light and so preserve its pale colour and delicate flavour. The smooth, creamy white leaves may be served stuffed, baked, boiled, cut and cooked in a milk sauce, or simply cut raw. The tender leaves are slightly bitter; the whiter the leaf, the less bitter the taste. The harder inner part of the stem at the bottom of the head should be cut out before cooking to prevent bitterness. Belgium exports chicon/witloof to over 40 different countries. The technique for growing blanched endives was accidentally discovered in the 1850s in Schaerbeek, Belgium. Today France is the largest producer of endive.

Belgian endive:


Although leaf chicory is often called “endive”, true endive (Cichorium endivia) is a different species in the genus.

And Wikipedia on true endive:

There are two main varieties of cultivated endive [Cichorium endivia]:

— Curly endive, or frisée (var crispum). This type has narrow, green, curly outer leaves. It is sometimes called chicory in the United States and is called chicorée frisée in French. Further confusion results from the fact that frisée also refers to a technique in which greens are lightly wilted with oil.

— Escarole, or broad-leaved endive (var latifolia) has broad, pale green leaves and is less bitter than the other varieties. Varieties or names include broad-leaved endive, Bavarian endive, Batavian endive, grumolo, scarola, and scarole. It is eaten like other greens, sauteed, chopped into soups and stews, or as part of a green salad.

Curly endive was illustrated above. Now, escarole:


(Many Americans distinguish between curly endive and Belgian endive in the pronunciation of endive: fully Anglicized /ˈɛndˌayv/ for curly endive vs. a more French-like /ˌanˈdiv/ for Belgian endive.)

One final complication in naming: radicchio in Italian is often translated as radish in English; both words go back to Latin radix ‘root’. But the radish is a crucifer (like arugula), not a composite (like radicchio, the chicories, and the endives):

The radish (Raphanus sativus) is an edible root vegetable of the Brassicaceae family that was domesticated in Europe, in pre-Roman times. They are grown and consumed throughout the world. Radishes have numerous varieties, varying in size, color and duration of required cultivation time. There are some radishes that are grown for their seeds; oilseed radishes are grown, as the name implies, for oil production. Radish can sprout from seed to small plant in as little as 3 days.

The descriptive Greek name of the genus Raphanus means “quickly appearing” and refers to the rapid germination of these plants. … The common name “radish” is derived from Latin radix (root).

… The most commonly eaten portion is the napiform taproot, although the entire plant is edible and the tops can be used as a leaf vegetable. It can also be eaten as a sprout. (link)


Now for culinary uses. The local Italian restaurant Osteria (excellent food, but cramped in space) has two salads of gay greens on its menu: Arugula Insalata (baby arugula, fresh mozzarella and sliced tomato) and Insalata di Radicchio & Gorgonzola (radicchio and [Belgian] endive leaves with mounds of gorgonzola cheese, plus mustard vinaigrette for dipping the leaves).

Radicchio pairs especially well with ingredients that are acid (vinegar, acid fruits), sweet, salty, sharp (mustard especially), or unctuous (cheese, bacon); Osteria’s Insalata di Radicchio & Gorgonzola has acid, salty (in the cheese), sharp, and unctuous. From the Jamie Oliver site, the Big Two of gay greens together:

Radicchio & rocket salad (Insalata di radicchio e rughetta)

Radicchio, like other bitter leaves such as Belgian endive, dandelions, cicoria [chicory] and treviso [a variety of radicchio], becomes extra special when its bitterness is balanced with other tastes – like the sweetness of balsamic vinegar, the saltiness of Parmesan, or the crunchy pepperiness of rocket. Sometimes in life you have one particular thing which, on its own, is nothing, yet mix it up in the right combination and somehow it becomes genius – it’s like this with recipes, and especially this one.

An assortment of other combinations, from a variety of sources:

Radicchio & Fennel Salad (Insalata di radicchio e finocchio) (with a mustard vinaigrette) (link)

Insalata di radicchio asiago e noci (radicchio, Asiago cheese, walnuts) (link)

Insalata di Radicchio con Lamelle di Tacchino – Radicchio Salad with Turkey [Breast] Slivers (and a simple vinaigrette, plus some truffles) (link)

Insalata di radicchio, melagrana e noci con vinaigrette alle clementine (radicchio salad with walnuts and pomegranate, and a Clementine vinaigrette) (link)

Insalata di radicchio, cavolo viola e ananas (salad of radicchio, purple cabbage, and pineapple) (link)

Insalata di Radicchio e Pancetta (radicchio salad with bacon) (link)

Appendix on cruciferous vegetables. Just as radicchio leads us into a thicket of chicories, endives, and escarole, so arugula / rocket takes us to the huge forest of cruciferous vegetables. From Wikipedia:

Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae). These vegetables are widely cultivated, with many genera, species, and cultivars being raised for food production such as cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, broccoli and similar green leaf vegetables. The family takes its alternate name (Cruciferae, New Latin for “cross-bearing”) from the shape of their flowers, whose four petals resemble a cross.

Ten of the most common cruciferous vegetables eaten by people are in a single species (B. oleracea), and are not distinguished from one another taxonomically, but only by the horticultural category of cultivar groups. Numerous other genera and species in the family are also edible.

Here, adapted from the Wikipedia article, is a list of cruciferous vegetables. First, genus Brassica, divided into groups by the species name:

Ethiopian mustard Brassica carinata

white mustard seeds Brassica hirta

brown mustard seeds, mustard greens Brassica juncea
wrapped heart mustard cabbage Brassica juncea rugosa

Siberian kale Brassica napus pabularia
rapeseed/canola Brassica napus oleifera
rutabaga Brassica napus napobrassica

black mustard seeds Brassica nigra

broccoli Brassica oleracea Italica group
Chinese broccoli (gai-lan) Brassica oleracea Alboglabra group
wild broccoli Brassica oleracea Oleracea group
broccoli Romanesco (Roman cauliflower) Brassica oleracea Botrytis / Italica group
broccoflower Brassica oleracea Italica x Botrytis group
Brussels sprout Brassica oleracea Gemmifera group
cabbage Brassica oleracea Capitata group
cauliflower Brassica oleracea Botrytis group
collard greens Brassica oleracea Acephala group
kale Brassica oleracea Acephala group
kohlrabi Brassica oleracea Gongylodes group

bok choy Brassica rapa chinensis
flowering cabbage Brassica rapa parachinensis
Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage Brassica rapa pekinensis
komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) Brassica rapa pervidis or komatsuna
mizuna (Japanese mustard) Brassica rapa nipposinica
rapini (broccoli rabe) Brassica rapa parachinensis
turnip root, turnip greens Brassica rapa rapifera

tatsoi (spinach mustard) Brassica rosularia

(Mizuna is a green much like arugula, only not quite so sharp in taste. I grew it in Columbus.)

Then the remaining genera:

horseradish Armoracia rusticana
land cress Barbarea verna
arugula (rocket) Eruca vesicaria
field pepperweed Lepidium campestre
maca Lepidium meyenii
garden cress Lepidium sativum
watercress Nasturtium officinale
radish Raphanus sativus
daikon Raphanus sativus longipinnatus
wasabi Wasabia japonica

One Response to “Gay greens: the Big Two”

  1. More gay greens | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the previous installment, “Gay greens: the big two”, I looked at arugula and radicchio, with an excursion into […]

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