Balsamic Braised Radicchio

Taming the Chicory

Winter is chicory season. Chicories are the often-labeled family of bitter greens, which include radicchio, endive, puntarelle, and escarole. Bunches and heads of chicory are prolific throughout the cold season, difficult to miss with their dramatic frilly, spiky, and cone-headed leaves. And while their bitterness can be off-putting to some, at winter’s peak, chicories are crisp, juicy, nutty and mildly sweet – all qualities that pleasantly balance their natural bitterness. Plus, they are healthy to boot. Fiber-rich and loaded with vitamins C, B, and K and nutrients, such as iron, zinc, copper, and potassium, chicories are the cold season’s warriors that will fight to keep you healthy throughout winter.

The best way to approach these robust greens is to pair them with equally assertive yet balancing ingredients, striking a balance between bitter, sweet, sour, and heat. This is one of my favorite methods to cook radicchio. The sturdy purple heads hold up well to braising, and balsamic vinegar is a great foil with its rich, fruity, and sharp notes. When cooked, balsamic vinegar reduces to a sweet and sour syrup that shellacs the wilted radicchio wedges. Choose deeply colored, firm heads that have a little weight to them, and try to purchase similarly sized heads for this recipe to ensure even cooking.

Balsamic Braised Radicchio

Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

4 medium-large heads radicchio
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chicken stock, mushroom stock, or water
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
3 to 4 thyme sprigs

1. Halve the radicchios top to stem. Using a paring knife, cut out the white stem at the bottom of each half, then halve each half lengthwise so that you have 4 wedges.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat. Arrange the wedges snugly in the skillet, cut-sides down. Cook until slightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the wedges so that the other cut side is down in the skillet. Season with the salt and black pepper and cook until slightly colored, about 2 minutes more.
3. Pour the balsamic vinegar over the radicchio and then pour the chicken stock over. The pan should be about 1/2-inch full of liquid. Top off with additional balsamic or stock if needed. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the radicchio and then scatter the thyme sprigs in the skillet.
4. Partially cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat until the radicchio are crisp-tender when pierced with a knife through the base, 12 to 15 minutes, carefully turning the wedges once or twice. Remove the cover and continue to simmer until the radicchio is soft, 5 to 7 minutes more, turning once or twice to evenly coat and cook.
5. Using tongs, transfer the radicchio to a serving dish, gently squeezing any excess liquid back into the skillet. Continue to simmer the braising liquid until reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and taste for seasoning. You may need to add a little more salt and black pepper. There should be a balance of sweet, salt, bitter, and the kick of black pepper in the flavor.
6. Drizzle the syrup over the radicchio and serve warm.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

The Cold Season’s Answer to Vegetables:

Balsamic Braised Chicories

A spoonful of sugar helps the bitterness go away.

When the weather is frigid, and the garden has hunkered down for the winter, it’s time to turn to chicories. These leafy vegetables are our cold-season friends, packed with vitamins and nutrients, and winter’s replacement for sweet summer greens. While chicories are also referred to as “greens,” whites, reds, and purples may be more accurate descriptions. This broad group of leafy “greens” includes endive, escarole, frisée, Treviso, and radicchio.

Chicory leaves are hardy and often bitter, so it’s best to lean into their robust qualities, rather than pretend they are a substitute for mild-mannered lettuce. Team them up with equally strong flavors: sweet and sharp dressings, astringent citrus, smoky bacon, fruit, and nuts. And don’t be shy about using a little sugar, which will nicely offset their bracing bitterness.

Thanks to chicories’ sturdiness, they are great for braising, which is an appealing (and warm) way to get your veggies in the dead of winter. Braising will tame their strong flavor, and with a little extra sugar, amplify their natural sweetness.

Balsamic Braised Chicories

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

1 1/2 pounds chicories, such as endive, radicchio, escarole

1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish

1. Trim the bases of the chicories. Halve the endives lengthwise and cut the radicchio and escarole into wedges.
2. Whisk the chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the chicories, cut-side down in the skillet and cook until they begin to soften and brown, about 5 minutes, turning once.
4. Pour the balsamic mixture over and around the chicories, and scatter the sprigs over. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the skillet and simmer until the chicories are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once or twice.
5. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced and the chicories are slightly caramelized.
6. Discard the thyme sprigs. Season the chicories with additional salt to taste and serve warm, garnished with fresh thyme.

The Cure and a Recipe for Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

The Cure and a Recipe for Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

Charucutepalooza #11: The Cure – Air Dried Pork Tenderloin

I knew the mini-bar had a purpose. There is a funky mini-bar downstairs in our home which serves no use except to take up space – that is until now. This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge is curing (which is another way of saying hanging and drying) a whole piece of meat. The trick is to hang the meat in an environment which maintains a steady temperature and humidity level. The professionals might use a curing chamber which will do all of this in a sleek, shiny, high tech manner. For us newbies we must rely on a basement, garage, wine cellar, and lots of faith tempered with caution. Of course, it would be helpful if we actually had a basement or wine cellar, or that the mild California climate would guarantee a steady cool temperature.

Enter the mini-bar fridge, which sits quietly forgotten, occasionally stocked with an overflow of party beverages, but usually empty. After reading a post by Michael Ruhlman, I realized that this appliance associated with my college dorm room could, in fact, house my meat. All I had to do was clean it and turn it to its warmest setting, and suddenly our clunky relic from the previous owner’s jacuzzi parties morphed into a handy dandy meat curing chamber.

Since I had no idea how any of this would turn out, and mindful that I might possibly produce results that could sicken my family, I decided to keep it very simple and cured two pork tenderloins. The process took all of 3 weeks, with no hands on attention except to remember to check it. My husband gamely offered to taste the finished results, and loved them, affirming – once again – that Charcutepalooza is making him one happy meat eating camper.

The meat is delicious to eat as is, but I also love to add dried ham to pizzas, pasta, eggs and salads. It’s salty, chewy texture gives just the right oomph to this winter spinach salad.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette, Toasted Pinenuts and Cured Pork

The warm balsamic dressing will lightly wilt the spinach greens as they are tossed. If you don’t have any air dried pork, oven dried prosciutto is an excellent and easily accessible alternative. Serves 4-6.

3/4 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, slightly smashed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cured pork or oven dried prosciutto (see below), broken in pieces
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Place spinach and shallot in a large bowl. Combine garlic, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until vinegar is reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify. Remove and discard garlic clove. Pour half of the warm dressing over the spinach. Toss to combine. Add more dressing to taste. Divide salad among individual plates. Scatter pork and pine nuts over the salad. Serve immediately.

To oven dry prosciutto:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place 8 slices of prosciutto on a baking tray in one layer. Bake in oven 15 minutes. Turn off oven; do not remove prosciutto. Let it sit in oven 15 more minutes. Remove and break into shards.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.