I love bitter foods! I know it is not to some folks’ taste, but when balanced with a little sweet and a little sour, the possibilities are amazing. Rapini? Love it, and I totally ignore all blanching instructions to “remove the bitterness;” goodness, that’s why I chose this vegetable in the first place. On my list of “delicious bitter” are coffee, darkest chocolate, Campari, charred foods on the barbeque, bitter melon, citrus fruits and their zest, and bitter greens, including dandelion, collards, kale, nettles, arugula, radicchio, and chicory, both the leaf and the forced sprouts we refer to as Belgium endive. There is a little bottle of bitters sitting with my condiments!
Bitter foods are often thought of as therapeutic (consider the warm spices turmeric and ginger) and they offer a unique enhancement to many a meal. Often, bitter elements are used to balance out foods that are really rich or fatty, that is why a creamy, cheesy omelet tastes so good with a greens salad dressed with a tangy vinaigrette.
It’s always a balancing act. Grilling the radicchio and endive adds some char, which can increase the bitterness, but the cooking process brings out the sweetness in the vegetables. This salad, or side dish, is made with sweet caramelized onions as a garnish, and both limoncello and sherry vinegar to add another element. You can substitute lemon juice for the limoncello, but add a ½ teaspoon of sugar to the dressing. You can make all the elements to this dish in advance and assemble just before your meal. Leftovers are great as well! Serve hot or room temperature.
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
1/3 cup limoncello liquor
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 large sweet onions, sliced
1 tbsp. dark maple syrup
3 heads of Belgium endive
1 head of radicchio
1 lemon, sliced thinly
Arugula or other green, optional
Cheese of choice to top, optional
3 tbsp. reserved soaking liquid from cherries
1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper
Place dried cherries in limoncello and let sit for an hour.
To caramelize the onions, heat a large frying pan over medium high and once hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onions, and sauté, stirring, for three or four minutes, until the onions have softened and start to brown on the edges. Turn down the heat, and continue to cook, stirring ever few minutes, until the onions are nicely brown and really soft. Add the maple syrup, and cook a few minutes longer. Set aside.
Over medium high, heat your grill pan, or other large, heavy bottomed pan such as cast iron.
Cut the endive heads in half, and the radicchio into 6 or 8 sections (depending on the size) taking care to keep the core end in tact. Slice lemons as thin as possible. Coat the radicchio, endive, and sliced lemons with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
Place flattest sides of the vegetables down in the hot grill pan, and immediately reduce the heat to medium. Cook for a few minutes, until a peek under reveals brown marks and the heads start to soften. Turn and cook a few more minutes, turning of the heat. You don’t want to scorch too much and add more bitterness.
Remove from the pan and set aside.
Make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar and shaking like crazy. Add salt and pepper to your own liking. I add a bit of hot sauce as well.
Assemble your salad any way you like! You can place all the ingredients out on a platter and let folks choose what they want, or make it pretty and composed the way you like. I like it best placed warm on a bed of lovely arugula and topped with either creamy local goat cheese or a nice salty Parmesan.