Linguists are rightfully wrapping their heads around many questions, for example: Is a vegetable without a green pigment even a vegetable? And, is a vegetable that gets through its final transformation in a barn even a vegetable? Is chicory (latin Radix), which is named by its roots and then appreciated by its crispy leaves, even entitled to such name? Gourmets don’t care about this: for them Solkan dandelion, the most noble of all the gorisko-paled chicories, is becoming more and more of a wanted delicacy, which for them requires just as much effort to buy it as it does for producers to offer it to them.
Printed sources record the beginning of the sale of this special chicory in Gorica market in the 70’s of the 19th century. Chroniclers were pointing out the specificity of production which was based on plant fading in the barns where the old large leaves rotted in the heat of manure and stable animals and from the root of the plant a new chicory head came to light and was no bigger than a boy’s fist with purple color and snow-white ribs. The path from putting a seed into the ground to preparing the plant for market was not short. The plants needed to be touched by hands at least nine times before they could be put in wicker baskets and women were able to place them on their heads and carried them to the market. There a buyer was able to see baskets of the most beautiful yellow and red chicories, like Rihard Dolenc of the Agricultural and handicraft news from 1886 did. Production of yellow, also known as “kanarin” (canary) amongst the locals, covers only around one percent of all of today’s winter chicory, of which Solkan dandelion stands out because of its shape that bears a resemblance of a rose.
Families with a long tradition of cultivating are alone taking care of growing seeds from selected rhizomes, that’s why the original Solkan dandelion is like a da Vinci’s piece of art – never truly finished. Unfortunately, growers failed to agree on joint breeding, and the results of the use of purchased seeds are not the most encouraging. This applies only to the expected form of pale chicory, which does not even affect the taste, as Matej Vodan from the eating house Žogica described, whose menus are strongly leading with the inclusion of chicory. Especially if chicory leaves are not served as whole, in salad or as decoration when the eye also gets it’s share of pleasure, but also as a base in sauce preparation, pasta filling or in any other innovative way. “You cannot demand from a dandelion to grow. It needs its time and especially the right weather conditions.” says Klara Jug amongst other growers like Joško Kancler, Boštjan Koršič, Marta or any other.
“In the kitchen it needs focus to get the best out of it.” eating house Žogica added. Days, when they had to describe what Solkan radicchio is to guests, are over. Whoever wants they can take a look of a charming photographic exhibition of the four seasons of chicory and if they want they can order it in the winter months. For many years now they have been preparing a multi-course dandelion menu, where chicory accompanies all the served dishes – from appertizers to desserts. And, with the root they spice up the taste of the original bitters. Sales data confirms the popularity of the dandelion and also the commitment of the staff who knows how to prepare and present it. At the peak of the season, which is from the beginning of December to the end of February, they consume up to 40 kilograms of chicory per week. “Regut ku more bet”, a classic salad is no longer a challenge for Matej, so he constantly comes up with new dishes. Because of this, eating house Žogica is rightfully called THE HOUSE OF SOLKAN’S RADICCHIO.
Written by Toni Gomišček. Photo by David Verlič