Exciting news: Witlof is now available 12 months of the year in South Africa. Witlof is also known as Belgian Endive, or Chicory leaf. It is related to the chicory family that includes radicchio escarole, frisee lettuce as well as the curly endive. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I like them. With a crisp texture and a sweet and mildly nutty flavour, it is a great vegetable to use in a variety of dishes, either raw or cooked. In South Africa’s Koue Bokkeveld, grower Fanie van der Merwe of Bronaar – established in 1743 – is the ninth generation of Van der Merwe growers in Ceres. It is the oldest ongoing family business in South Africa.
First marketed for Belgian consumers in 1846, a few other countries have also embarked on cultivating this interesting and complicated crop. South Africa also joined the brave few but it has, for the most part, been an imported product. Bronaar proudly established itself as a Witlof producer, aiming to grow the interest in this product across all their markets.
According to Fanie, who is Bronaar’s Managing Director, Witlof is a notoriously difficult vegetable to grow and requires a two-step growing process before it is ready to be harvested. “Bronaar’s specialised R7 million Witlof growing facility is equipped to handle all the technical intricacies and challenges of growing this crop that before now has never been sustainably produced in our country. We are here to change perceptions and be a constant, reliable producer of Witlof to all our customers.”
Van der Merwe explains that Witlof requires very specific growing methods and climate conditions and everything, from moisture and temperature to humidity, is controlled in the facility. “We are excited about giving people all over South Africa the opportunity to enjoy it more often and to become familiar with this exceptional new low-carbohydrate vegetable (3.3g/100g) which is high in fibre (3.1g) and delivers 10% of the recommended daily intake of Folate (B9), along with a host of health enhancing vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” says Fanie.
Grown hydroponically and in the dark, Witlof is unlike any other vegetable. Its two-stages production method makes it especially interesting, the first being the growing of the chicory root (unrelated to the coffee substitute) in the earth, between spring and autumn, to maturity. “This particular type of chicory develops a large tap root, similar to a thickened parsnip, which is harvested, cleaned and refrigerated.” Stage two takes place entirely in the dark to avoid the development of chlorophyll, which ensures the leaf’s creamy white appearance and it is grown in soil-free hydroponics. The chicons, the name of the leaf, take 22 days to produce before they are harvested as Witlof”, Fanie explains.
As a major producer for the South African market and for export, Bronaar is a member of SIZA and also meets many GLOBALGAP, Natures Choice and many other audits that guarantee quality and high global standards of farm practices.
Witlof/Goats cheese, pear/honey
8 small rolled balls (5g each) of chevin goat’s cheese
1 egg separated
Oil for deep frying
20g parsley, chopped
1 pear (skin on) sliced and sautéed in butter
40g walnuts, crushed
2 Witlof heads finely chopped
250g Mixed baby lettuce and micro greens
4 teaspoon honey to drizzle
50g Panko crumbs
Make 5g cheese balls. Coat half with egg white and Panko crumbs, before deep frying until crisp. Roll the other half in chopped parsley.
Build the base of your salad with two leaves of Witlof and stack the baby leaf salad on top. Top with chopped Witlof followed by pear, walnuts and goat’s cheese. Drizzle with honey and garnish with micro greens.
Witlof au Gratin (Witlof wrapped in Parma ham, veloute, gouda and mash)
1 pack Witlof
160g Parma ham
200g gouda grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil 1 pack Witlof in water with a pinch of salt, drain well but retain the cooking liquor to make the veloute.
Boil the potatoes and mash.
To make the veloute, melt butter and whisk in the flour folding in the Witlof cooking liquor until you reach a custard consistency. Add the cream and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Wrap the blanched Witlof in cooked ham and place in a casserole dish; place the mash next to it.
Top the ham with veloute and top that with 200g grated Dutch Gouda.
Bake at 180 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbling.