Not everyone enjoys bitter tasting food or drink, but while a big whack of something bitter can be overpowering, a little bitterness here and there can contrast sweet flavours and bring interest to blander foods. Radicchio is a personal favourite. I love its striking colour and the way it lifts a bowl of green salad, and I enjoy it’s refreshing minerally bitter bite in other dishes.
The most common radicchio, ‘Rosso di Verona’, is as cute as a button, looking like a miniature red cabbage. This is the one to use raw in salads. Just trim the root, discard any green tinged outer leaves because they will be very bitter, then break the leaves apart and into bite-sized pieces. It’s a sturdy leaf and once it’s mixed with a dressing it doesn’t break down as quickly as softer salad leaves.
‘Radicchio di Treviso’ has long tapering leaves, and is not as bitter as the Verona variety. It’s a delightful treat doused in olive oil and grilled on the barbecue, or chop it up and add to risotto towards the end of cooking.
The pleasantly bitter taste of radicchio works well with strongly flavoured foods. My all-time favourite way is to toss it with a pungent dressing of garlic, grassy olive oil, parmesan and chopped capers. Parmesan’s piquant sweetness along with the tang of capers mute the bitterness. It’s simply gorgeous to eat and it looks striking on a plate, too.
To store radicchio, keep it in an unsealed plastic bag lined with paper towels in the vegetable bin in the fridge – it will keep well for 1-2 weeks. Although you will need to wash outer leaves – discard any leaves tinged with green as they will be excessively bitter – the inner leaves will not need washing.
Recipes using radicchio
Photography Aaron McLean http://www.aaronmclean.com