Radicchio is glorious, but it’s one of those more challenging items to use in the kitchen. It’s beauty and variety of color seem to lead us naturally to use it in its natural, uncooked state, which usually means as an addition to salads. And, to use a natural metaphor, it surely blooms in the salad bowl as a flower. But to stop there is to do the versatile vegetable an injustice. I have a book, published in Italy in 1984 called Il Radicchio in Cucina (The Radicchio in the Kitchen). There are literally hundreds of recipes mostly savory (yes even desserts) and mostly cooked. The author Armando Zanotto makes a huge distinction between the radicchio di Treviso, which is the one that is dark purple and shaped like a long fingered hand with crunchy large ribs, and the Castelfranco which is what we usually see at the Farmers Markets, shaped more like a head and with more tender variegated leaves.
Continue reading for my recipe for Radicchio Salad with Hot Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Radicchio Salad with Hot Balsamic Vinaigrette
2 large heads radicchio of contrasting colors
2 slices thick good bacon, cut into chunks (optional)
1 red onion, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bunch cress, well washed, dried and trimmed
Balsamic vinegar to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Wash radicchio well, separate leaves and spin to dry well. Place radicchio leaves in salad bowl.
Peel onion, cut in half through the root and stem end and slice vertically. Test the onion for pungency. If it’s too strong, soak it briefly in cold water. Drain and dry.
Heat oil in saute pan. Add bacon and saute until fat renders but meat still chewy. Removed from fat with slotted spoon and reserve. Add onion to oil-bacon fat in pan and cook over low heat until it’s wilted but not completely soft. Add garlic and saute until aroma blooms. Turn heat off and add the cress, reserved bacon, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Turn heat on and bring vinaigrette briefly to simmer to a very warm temperature.
Remove from heat and immediately dress the radicchio with the warm dressing. Toss and serve immediately.