Radicchio Makes a Great Caesar
Follow the recipe of Marc Baltes of Boot and Shoe for a fine fall and early winter salad.
Radicchio are Italian members of the chicory family and make a great Caesar salad.
Photo by Lori Eanes
For lovers of bitter flavors like Marc Baltes, executive chef at Oakland’s Boot and Shoe, December is a choice time, when cooler temperatures make for mellower radicchio, and in abundance. “It’s one of the things I have to wait for,” he says, “and then when they come, I’m up to my ears in it.”
Radicchios are Italian members of the chicory family and possess a bold beauty. Commonplace radicchio with its pliable, cabbage-like leaves can exhibit a blood-dark gleam. The classic Italian Treviso is statuesque and finely-veined. The mild, tender pan de zucchero pales in comparison—but then, it’s also one of the mildest. Frisee, a Muppet-y head of curly leaves, is equally mild.
Look for pale, tender specimens—ones that have had copious amounts of sun turn dark green and can be bitter, with a blunt flavor profile. It can be difficult to tell what’s delicious unless you taste it. “Radicchio that’s not great is kind of just bitter,” Baltes says. “If you get really good radicchio, it’s got that underlying sweetness. You need to cook it to really bring that out.”
At home, Baltes likes to cook radicchio hot and fast, searing it first in a cast-iron pan before roasting it, to bring out the sweetness.
At Boot and Shoe, he combines varieties and tosses them into a salad. The intensity of radicchio can handle strong flavors like hard cheese, anchovy, and garlic. He also likes to put raddichio into a Zuni Café-like roast chicken and bread salad. The bread is tossed in chicken drippings and a mix of radicchio before toasting.
Look for fresh, perky specimens at the farmers’ market, and taste them if you can to determine the quality. Baltes likes ones grown by cool-weather, coastal farms like La Tercera in Bolinas and Dirty Girl and Blue Heron in Santa Cruz County.
Mixed Chicories Caesar Salad
Recipe courtesy of Marc Baltes, Boot and Shoe Service
1/2 loaf stale levain bread
2/3 cup olive oil
15 anchovy filets
3 large cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons grated Grana Padano
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2-3 heads chicories (red radicchio, escarole, pan di zuccero, frisee)
Trim the crust and tear into bite-sized chunks. Toss with oil and salt and toast in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven.
For salt-packed anchovies, soak 15 minutes and peel the fish away from the bone, remove the dorsal fin and collarbones. Rinse and pat dry if using oil-packed.
Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle, add salt, and work to a fine paste.
Chop 2/3 of the anchovies fine and pound the rest in a mortar and pestle. Add to the egg yolks with half of the garlic. Add the Grana, black pepper, and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil to make a creamy emulsion.
Peel off the outer layers of the chicories to the tender, milder hearts, pulling off leaves with green streaking. Trim the escarole to the pale green and yellow leaves and the frisee to the pale yellow hearts. Cut into large bite-sized pieces, wash, and dry well.
Put a couple spoonfuls of dressing in a large bowl. Squeeze in half lemon and drag a handful’s worth of croutons per person through the dressing. Add a couple more spoons' worth of dressing and another squeeze of lemon. Add the chicories, salt, and toss well. Give them a taste. If they are particularly bitter, a little more lemon will balance it out. Plate and top with a generous grind of black pepper and a grating of Grana.
Fresh garlic is important here. The cloves should be plump and shiny, A dull yellow color is a sign that the garlic is going rancid. Use a light, refined olive oil, usually labeled pure olive oil, not a green extra virgin oil.