Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bitter is Better - Radicchio di Treviso


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

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

15 comments:

  1. My favorite way to cook Treviso is on the grill. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and grill over medium heat until the inner leaves are warm and the outer ones charred. Sooooo good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mmmmm....charred. Sounds wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  3. My parents cook radicchio on the grill like Lydia mentions--it is darn good stuff. I love it a myriad of ways; unfortunately, I can't get ECG to touch the stuff. I'll have to try your way of roasting it with cheese soon because you've reminded me how much I like it. I guess ECG will just have to figure out his own dinner the night I make it for myself . . ..

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bully for you, dear Christina. The man doesn't know what he is missing...but let him go and enjoy his own culinary world. There is no right or wrong path here, just the childhood and cultural preferences that we take with us wherever we go.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well it hasn't shown up yet in MY greengrocer! I am a radicchio/endive/all-kinds-of-bitter greens nut and I've been waiting to try this stuff, which somehow hasn't made its way to my little corner of the world.

    ReplyDelete
  6. And I'm still waiting for frisée. Right now we can only get a thread or two in one of those bags of "spring mix." Progress can be slow even in metropolitan areas.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Never seen this in a store around here either. It does sound like something I'd love to try!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I hope that someday it becomes better known and more marketable so that others can enjoy it, too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hello, your beautiful picture on FoodGawker led me here.
    Thank you for the wonderful and informative write up on radicchio. I tossed a package of Carmen radicchio seeds in my garden back in spring and they are now growing like crazy. I'm excited to start eating my bounty in the next few days. I'll certainly try your recipe, it is very new to me. Usually I love eating it raw because I grew up eating bitter veggies so radicchio flavors are comforting to me, not foreign at all.
    Thanks again, finding your recipe is just perfect timing!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I tried this recipe tonight, but the treviso was still horribly bitter. I left out the cheese since I'm vegan...I'm wondering if the cheese is what made it palatable. Any other suggestions for this veggie?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anonymous - You have a few options, but some taste buds will always be more sensitive to bitter than others.

    You could try salting, draining and rinsing the radicchio prior to cooking, as you would eggplant; and/or braising it in plenty of olive oil until it is browned and wilted - more cooking will lessen the flavor; or you could try radicchio's less bitter relative, Belgian endive, the pale white/green leaves are much more palatable to begin with.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Thanks for posting this. We grow a wide variety of chicories, including Treviso radicchio, on our organic farm near Austin, Texas. It has taken a lot of education and instruction to win our CSA and market customers over to the beauty of bitter! Katie, Tecolote Farm

    ReplyDelete
  13. I am also a big amateur of Treviso radicchio, and this recipe sounds really intriguing to me, I'll definitely try it out.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Had it recently in Veneto the northern eastern Provence of Italy where Treviso is. there is another variety here with even smaller red leaves, but my god it was flavour packed, a big Umami hit here! Strong flavour when cooked in a pan with diced onion or garlic, Great in plain pasta with cheese and even more fantastic in risotto!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Such a healthy product. Thank you for the recipe. I will try it asap.

    ReplyDelete