Wedges of grilled, lightly caramelised radicchio dressed with Parmesan and balsamic vinegar make a wonderful grown-up salad, lunch or a side. Why grown up?
Bitter means poisonous (potentially)
Children don’t like bitter stuff. They won’t drink coffee (very good on them) or beer (even better); eat grapefruit or olives. Natural selection mechanism makes sure they go bleurgh! and spit out all that potentially could be poisonous.
Of course, there are exceptions. I know parents who proudly announce to those who will or won’t listen that little Olivia just can’t get enough of her namesake fruit; that Artie eats artichokes for breakfast and Charlie was weaned on chicory.
Bully for them – or rather, are the poor kids' survival skills evolutionally impaired? Where are their natural defence mechanisms of ‘what tastes bad kills you’? Will they start accepting liquorice from strangers next?
I hope Olivia and co will be all right but the rest of us only acquire a taste for bitter, sour and salty (and tequila slammers which is all three) when adults.
The penchant for what is not straight forwardly ‘delicious’ has probably similar roots in our psyche as the love of really scary movies, escape rooms or handcuffs and black leather.
You can only have so much boring tasty before you start to yearn for spicy and tart.
Is radicchio a type of cabbage?
Radicchio is related to chicory and endive, native to Italy and that salad leaf that makes kids go ‘bleurgh!’ it is in fact neither lettuce nor cabbage, contrary to what the popular perception might be.
It looks impressive, white striated magenta, and forms a tight head that is easily wedgeable. Its bitterness, if you’re keen but cautious, is easily combatted with salt and acid not sugar: you should never fight the bitter with the sweet.
And it loses some of the astringency when charred, be it under the grill, in hot oven or on a dry hot griddle.
So this is what I have done with it, all of it in fact. I have charred the wedges (the sugar in the recipe serves only the caramelisation purpose), attacked them with salt, soused with vinegar and smothered in salty Parmesan.
How, precisely, to cook radicchio?
First step on the way to rid radicchio of some bitterness – to cheer it up, in other words, haha – is to soak it in cold water, for at least half an hour. It needs thorough drying afterwards so shake it off and pat dry with paper towels.
Acid and salt will be helpful next, and I like to use both white wine and balsamic vinegar. I know, balsamic is rather sweet and I said above that sugar isn’t going to defeat bitterness but the vinegary sweetness is different and serves more to season the lettuce rather than sweeten it.
Grilling it takes ten minutes on one side, slightly shorter on the other. It will wilt slightly which means it softens, but sadly, it will turn boring brownish grey.
It is wonderful with copious amounts of shredded Parmesan – more salty counteraction, you see, and the best olive oil you can afford.
You can apply the same treatment to radicchio’s relations, chicory or endive.
The wedges can also be roasted instead of grilled, or blackened on the hob. And the result will be as good.
You can also make Parmesan-based vinaigrette dressing for the dish, or drizzle it with ranch dressing if you like.
More salad recipes
Tomato, fig and blue cheese salad, with fresh ripe figs and sliced mixed variety tomatoes, an incredible taste sensation. Easy and quick salad, all you need is fresh and ripe tomatoes and figs.
Bacon, lettuce and blue cheese salad, perfect for light lunch. It’s almost a BLT, but the tomato is completely optional.
Raw courgette ribbons marinated with lemon and tossed with raisins, almonds, pistachios and nori flakes – a gorgeous courgette salad made without spiralizer but just a vegetable peeler.