Grilled Radicchio Salad
Its warmer than usual here this Winter in the NYC Suburbs, and today it was 71F, 25F degrees warmer than the average temperature. So, time to brush up on some Summer grilling ideas. This is a great one. Radicchio is about as round and slightly larger than a softball. While it looks like red cabbage, its actually a member of the chicory family, which also means it can be bitter. I like bitter, but this leafy vegetable needs to be softened up a bit. First, I peeled off the outer layer leaf, partially because I am too lazy to wash, but I do that with all such vegetables like shallots, onions, even iceberg lettuce. Generally I find that the “old” part of the vegetable and its like a protective coating, the good stuff inside. Fromt here I slice it in half, then half again, leaving the center stem/core in tact to hold the leaves together as you see above.
In the same salad bowl I served it in, I sprinkled with coarse sea salt, drizzled the exposed inner leaves with balsamic vinegar, cracked black pepper and finally olive oil. You can use extra virgin olive oil, but I simply used a Spanish olive oil because this will be subject to higher heat, and while its not as flavorful as extra virgin olive oil from Italy. Many expert chefs will say you cannot use extra virgin olive oil for high heat, it changes the chemistry of the oil, others will argue the point that is how it is done in the old country. I think most will agree that frying in a lighter oil is better if you want the flavor of the food itself, and the good thing is you can always dress it later with extra virgin olive oil. Oregano is also optional after you’ve grilled it for added flavor.
You want to keep an eye on this using a pair of tongs to occasionally check on the charred, turning as needed as to not burn or over char. There is no set time for this, its just watching, turning, and getting a color and taste you think you might like. The biggest mistake people make while grilling is thinking that a burger or whatever takes 5 minutes on each side in the summer will take the same amount of time in the fall, winter or spring. When the surrounding temperature is 50-60F in the spring or fall, obviously its going to cook faster when its 90F in the Summer. Keep that in mind. I was recently at a dinner where the person was following the recipe exactly to the directions not taking into account that if this recipe was developed in the Summer, it would not apply to Winter conditions, the same way someone boiling pasta in the mountains would take longer than boiling the pasta down by the beach. Humidity also plays a role. So remember this, recipes are only accurate in a controlled atmosphere like indoors, ovens, and Heaven forbid, microwaves. That being said, fruits and vegetables you can eat raw can be cooked to your liking, even if overcooked. I like my greens crisp, my root vegetables cooked through, and things like onions and peppers thoroughly cooked and/or soft and even caramelized. That being said, I would say I under cooked this time around.
Once you think you are done, take off the grill, put back in the same plate where there will be the excess of olive oil and vinegar that you used, and toss. Once cool enough to handle by hand, slice into smaller bite-size pieces, and I like to discard the harder inner core that held the quartered heads in tact.
Here is the time to taste, re-season with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, but it should be fine. I think the only enhancement would be some nice grated parmesan cheese. Keep in mind that the serving shown below is only half of the head, a single small head of radicchio can easily serve 2-4 people depending on how big the main course is, and/or if you have dessert, appetizers, bread, etc. Definitely 2 healthy servings, 3 reasonable servings and 4 small servings.
I actually saved half of it for the next night’s salad with homemade pizza. It holds up well in the fridge overnight. Its just as good slightly warm as it is cold. If you want to get rid of the bitterness, marinate longer in a sweeter vinegar like red wine chianti or sweeter balsamic, or even add some honey AFTER you grill it. Honey is a great sweetener, better than sugar, and once dissolved in vinegar, you won’t even recognize the honey flavor. I love the taste of honey, but not always in my savory or grilled dishes. There you have it. a fancy salad to impress anyone, simply done, and if you want to enhance it, add dried cranberries for sweetness or even walnuts for the nutty flavor of the charred radicchio. Experiment, that is what cooking is all about, and its really hard to screw up vegetables since they can be eaten raw, and at the same time to cook the life out of them, it would take an hour or more. You can try this with endive too, which is a longer, thinner green version of lettuce, but again, experiment.