There are certain unique taste sensations that I crave in no particular order and at no particular time. There are the shocking little soapy jolts of perfumed licorice in Sen Sen, the heartless heat of the habanero, and the toasted and tumbled touch of brown rice in Genmaicha tea. Then there’s the terror taste that nature abhors, the one we are biologically hard-wired to run from because it isn’t sweet, and, therefore, possibly poisonous and certainly not healthy. I’m talking about bitter. I love bitter, the bolder, brasher and bitchier, the better. If I donate my brain to science, it is possible that they will find more spikes in my serotonin levels based on bitter rather than that other addiction, sugar. Sure, I’ve indulged in plenty of massive bowls of ice cream, slabs of chocolate, and handfuls of jelly beans, but plates piled high with radicchio?
Radicchio, a red chicory, is a relative of endive, and has enjoyed popularity in Italy since ancient Roman times. The Italians take their radicchio as seriously as the French do their wine, with exacting classifications and certifications. Others may recognize its dark magenta slashes dressing up salads and peppering slaws. The most commonly known variety outside of Italy is the small, round Chioggia, similar to a head of compact cabbage. This is the variety I slice and stack and make meals of, bare except for a splash of stinging vinaigrette. I love the taste of sting, too.
Then Treviso showed up at the green grocer, like a carefully carved bullet, bulging with broad vertical veins, its leaves crinkled and compressed. It was a work of art. Though I was tempted to quickly take a knife to it, I took my time researching recipes that would keep its beautifully speared and hooded leaves intact. It was time to turn on the heat.
Americans do not generally cook their salad greens as some other cultures do. We like our lettuces crisp and crunchy rather than braised and buttered. Clearly, I was in a rut, and Treviso took me out of it. I chose a recipe, not only for its simplicity, but for its breakneck speed. I knew that radicchio’s bitterness can be tamed and made more palatable by either pre-soaking or heating it. I did not want tame. I arranged a collection of leaves in a casserole dish, dressed them in olive oil and parmesan cheese, then reluctantly placed them in a very hot oven for only 10 minutes.
The transformation was stunning. The once bold and beautiful red leaves were now withered, crusty brown, looking more like grasshoppers who stayed on the beach too long. I lifted a small spear to my lips and hoped for the best. Now I was transformed. The edges were crackled with cheese, the middle was mellow and rich with oil, and the wide thick base of stalk still bitter enough to recall its salad days.
Roasted Radicchio di Treviso - Slightly adapted from Radicchio.com
1 large head of radicchio di Treviso, rinsed, patted dry, and peeled of any imperfect outer leaves
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
Salt and Pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
Cut off the base of the Treviso and separate out the leaves, layering them in an ovenproof casserole. Drizzle with olive oil and evenly scatter the grated cheese on top of the leaves. Place in hot oven for 10 minutes, remove and serve promptly.
Serves 2. --
This post is being submitted to Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging event #78, hosted this week by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once.