Envision your next summer barbecue and you’ll probably picture a grill sizzling with burgers, chicken, and perhaps a juicy rib-eye. Likely the last thing to come to mind on those grates is what appears to be a purple head of lettuce.
But sometimes the most unexpected things thrown on a grill turn out to be the best. Enter radicchio, our purple-headed friend. Though radicchio (say, “rad-dee-kyoh”) might appear to be the offspring of a head of romaine lettuce and a cabbage, it tastes like neither. Radicchio is actually part of the chicory family, and its leaves are known for their bitterness. Radicchio is found in the fresh produce section in larger markets, and you might just mistake it for the aforementioned cabbage. If you don’t see it in your regular mainstream store, try an ethnic one. I get mine at H Mart, an Asian grocer, for about a dollar per head.
While radicchio leaves can be eaten raw, they may leave too much of the proverbial – and literal – bitter taste in your mouth. Best to use them sparingly and mixed with tamer greens.
A more interesting route for radicchio leads to the grill. Radicchio ain’t no wimp; its leaves are packed tight and held together by a woody core. Combined with its assertive flavor, these characteristics enable radicchio to stand up to the searing heat of a grill. Once cooked, radicchio wilts for easier eating and takes on a wonderfully smoky flavor. The bitterness is still there, but tamed.
To quell it further, I pair radicchio with a simple balsamic molasses vinaigrette. The sweetness of the molasses, the tartness of the vinegar, and the unctuousness of olive oil make for a fine dressing when drizzled over a wedge of charred radicchio. It all makes a lovely side when paired with a meaty entrée.
Ready to fire up that barbecue or heat up an indoor grill pan? Let’s make this bitter character a welcome culinary friend.
GRILLED RADICCHIO WITH BALSAMIC MOLASSES VINAIGRETTE
(Makes 4-6 servings)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 heads of radicchio, washed and cut into quarters
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Step 1: After washing, patting dry and quartering the radicchio, lightly rub each side with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Place each wedge directly on the grates of a hot grill.
Step 2: Cook each side until you get nice grill marks and coloring, gently turning with tongs. The whole process should take 10 minutes or less.
Step 3: While the radicchio cooks, make the vinaigrette by whisking together the vinegar, molasses, and salt and pepper, then slowly adding the olive oil while you continue to whisk. Taste and adjust each element as needed to your liking.
Step 4: After the radicchio cooks, let it rest briefly. Drizzle with the dressing, sprinkle with a touch more salt, and enjoy!
Congratulations: You’ve just gotten radical radicchio. With a cooking time similar to that of a thick burger, radicchio will make an enticing new side dish for your next barbecue.