With each passing year, bitter flavours are featuring more prominently on our table: strong black coffee and marmalade on a weekend morning, Campari or gin and tonic to begin a leisurely dinner and endive or radicchio salads to sharpen the palate. Endive tends to feature when we have French meals, tossed with a mustardy walnut oil dressing and, on occasion, some toasted nuts, pears and blue cheese. Radicchio usually gets an even simpler treatment—just a sprinkle of good balsamic vinegar and a smaller one of Maldon salt.
This fall I tried growing radicchio from seeds given to me by an Italian colleague. The resulting leaves, while speckled with maroon streaks and tasting agreeing bitter, in no other way resemble either of the main varieties (one round and crinkly, the other with long, stiff leaves) available locally.
Unable to harvest enough leaves to serve friends coming for Sunday night pizza supper, we bought some particularly handsome radicchio di Treviso at a local greengrocers. The plump, unblemished fennel bulbs also on display gave us the idea to adapt a southern Italian recipe for fennel, orange and olive salad, using the radicchio both as a colourful base and to add bitterness. Laid out on a large white platter, the salad looked festive and elegant, so much so that our photographer friend snapped this quick shot with her iPhone.
Pizza will still be appearing through the abstemious month of January. But in the interests of continuing to fit into the new clothes I just bought in the States, large helpings of this salad will be as well.
Radicchio, fennel and orange salad
1 medium-sized radicchio, any variety
1 large fennel bulb
1 large orange
Tear or slice the radicchio and arrange on a platter. Remove the core from the fennel and slice into thin moon-shaped pieces. Remove the peel, pith and interior membranes from the orange (preferably allowing any juice to drip onto the salad) and chop into small segments.
Place both the fennel and orange onto the radicchio bed. Dress with lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Chop or snip chives on top and serve.