Radicchio is a beautiful salad, with its crinkly, deep garnet leaves. But its flavour is not to everyone's liking. The sharp, bitter tang can be quite a shock when encountered in those bags of washed salad, especially if they've withered to wizened chunks of rind amid the almost-bland bits of lettuce. Even I find it difficult to eat sometimes as the bright white ribs are often so bitter one is tempted to spit them out.
In warmer climes like that of Italy, radicchio is considered a winter salad, where its sharpness is the perfect foil for the sweetness of pears and the salty punch of cured ham or blue cheese. But in more temperate places, it is more readily available locally from late-July on. When grown in the mild, wet weather, this robust leaf can turn out to be rather civilized. However, under wildly varying climates or sudden heat waves, this pretty, little salad can end up with a vicious kick!
There is a way to render these mighty salad leaves into the most mild mannered vegetable. Heat is the great equaliser in the kitchen, and is surprisingly handy at subduing any wild personalities: just as fiery radishes can be tamed by tossing them into a hot pan, so too rabid radicchio. Throwing a few brazen radicchio into a hot oven will render them a tad more refined, and balsamic vinegar brings out their sweet nature. This also work for treviso, chicory (frisée or curly endive) and Belgium endive (witloof).
1 good sized radicchio
1 small red onion
salt and pepper
Quarter the radicchio, and remove most of the core, leaving just enough that the leaves do not separate out. Cut each quarter in two.
Slice the red onion into thin half-moons.
In a baking dish, toss the radicchio and onion with a healthy glug of olive and two of balsamic. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast in a 200°C/400°F oven for about 15 minutes, tossing the wedges after about 8 minutes to make sure that everything is browning evenly.
The radicchio is done when it is wilted and charred in a few spots.
Alternatively, you can grill the dressed wedges on the barbecue.
Roasted radicchio can be served as a hot side dish (when the weather cools down), but it is also quite lovely at room temperature. If there are any left-overs, they will travel well in a boxed lunch the next day -they fare better if kept out of the fridge- and they are mighty nice chopped into some pasta.