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Radicchio di Chioggia
“The departure of six carloads of lettuce packed in ice was given a civic overtone. The Chamber of Commerce attended the departure. The cars were decorated with big posters which said, ‘Salinas Valley Lettuce’. But no one wanted to invest in the project.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
In East of Eden John Steinbeck writes about the Salinas Valley before it became known as the “Lettuce Bowl of the World”. Transporting the bounty of the Valley across the United States began in earnest in the late 1920’s with rail cars filled with lettuce packed in ice. Now trucks move an ever growing variety of produce from the Valley to it’s destination. Like lettuce, radicchio thrives in the Mediterranean like climate of the Salinas Valley. I wanted to learn more about the crisp, bright, maroon chicory that is grown locally by Royal Rose Radicchio. Emily Lyons, Marketing Manager at Royal Rose Radicchio graciously gave Athena and me a tour of a Salinas radicchio field.
In spring the Radicchio di Chioggia, variety of radicchio is in season in the Salinas Valley. The compact round balls of radicchio that we see in the grocery store grow protected inside a bundle of lush, thick green and maroon leaves. The rows of seductively colored radicchio look like giant rose buds; staunchly anchored in the rich Valley soil. When harvested and packed for shipment, the larger exterior leaves are cut away, leaving the exquisite maroon and white veined center of the rose.
For most of us, the first taste of radicchio is a surprise. Crunchy, sharp and slightly bitter, radicchio’s boldness pairs well with other intensely flavored foods. Part of the chicory family, the round, Radicchio di Chioggia is the most commonly known radicchio.
Radicchio is often a component in salads and pastas. A splendid salad that embraces the bright tartness of radicchio is Yotam Ottolenghi’s simply named “Lettuce Salad” from his brilliant cookbook Plenty. With mixed lettuces, radicchio, semi-dried tomatoes, radishes and capers the salad becomes so much more than the individual ingredients. Not an side dish to be ignored, this is a salad with deep, crisp flavor, full of character. The recipe makes a huge salad. Even though I served it as a side dish, four adults finished the entire salad at dinner. I recommend gathering the ingredients and making it soon. My favorite pasta with radicchio is found in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck. Radicchio is paired with bacon, mushrooms and parmesan and tossed with whole wheat pasta for a satisfying and hearty dinner in “Spaghetti with Radicchio, Caramelized Shallots and Bacon.” The sautéed radicchio melds terrifically with the salty rich bacon and cheese. Don’t be shy, give radicchio a try.
Radicchio is the star of my recipe. The leaves swirl in gentle ruffles above a cocoon of soft wheat bread. While bold in presentation, the radicchio mellows when baked. This bread is a superb complement to a hearty dish of pasta or a simple bowl of soup. But make no mistake, this bread is all about savoring the uniqueness of radicchio. A dip in olive oil or crumbles of moist feta cheese with a sprinkle of black pepper also pair nicely with the warm bread enveloping the gently steamed radicchio.
|2-1/4C / 500ml||milk|
|1 pkg / 2-1/2t||active dry yeast|
|2C / 270 grams||whole wheat flour|
|2C / 240 grams||unbleached white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour|
|1 head||Radicchio di Chioggia|
|1||egg||seasame seeds, optional|
- Scald the milk by heating just to 180°, do not boil. Then add the butter to the warm milk to melt. Add the honey and stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment add the warm milk mixture (not hotter than 110°), yeast and 1 cup of flour, beating on medium-low speed until smooth. Change to the dough hook, then in 1 cup increments add flour and then the salt. Continue to add flour, and mix until the dough forms into a round ball and all the flour is incorporated. Scrape down sides of mixer. Continue to knead dough for 5–8 minutes on medium speed, until dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Add only enough flour to the sides of the mixer bowl to keep the dough from sticking. The dough should remain slightly sticky to touch, but not dry.
- Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, away from any drafts. Cover with damp towel or plastic wrap. Let double in size, one to two hours.
- Meanwhile prepare radicchio by removing the core and gently pulling off the leaves. Try to keep as many large pieces are possible but if the leaves tear into sections that is fine. Set aside.
- Grease the baking pans of your choice, muffins tins, ramekins or small bowls will all work well. One quarter of the recipe will fill a standard 12 cup muffin tin.
- To assemble the bread using a standard 12 cup muffin pan: When dough has doubled in size, turn out on lightly floured surface, punch down and knead into a ball. Cut the ball of dough in half. Set aside one half. Roll the dough into a rectangle, approximately 12×12″ by 1/3″ thick. Cut the rectangle in half, approximately 6×12″. For standard muffin tins, cut each length of dough in strips 3/4″–1″ wide. The finished strips will be approximately 6×3/4″–1″. Exact measurements are not critical. Random uneven edges or lengths will not be noticeable in the final product. The bread will rise above the edge of the muffin tin for a visually pleasing presentation. Place a leaf of radicchio at the end of one of the strips and tightly roll up, secure the edge of the bread by pinching the roll closed. About one third to half the length of dough was covered with radicchio when I began rolling up the dough. Make sure some the radicchio is twice as high as the dough so it will be visible when the bread is baked. Place the bread into the muffin tin. Continue forming the bread until all of the strips of dough have been rolled with radicchio. Repeat the process with the rest of dough. If you choose to use another type of pan to bake the bread, measure its depth and cut the strips to just under that width. A wider baking pan will need a longer strip of dough, adjust accordingly.
- After forming the rolls let them double in size. Cover and keep in a warm draft free place. When they have doubled, they will be light and puffy and ready for baking.
- Preheat your oven to 350°. Make an egg wash by whisking together the egg with a tablespoon of water. Gently brush the rolls and radicchio with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you wish. When rolls are doubled in size and puffy, bake for 20–25 minutes. Check the rolls after 18 minutes. The bread is ready when it is lightly browned on top, do not over bake. If you test the bread with a cake tester be sure you poke just the bread. If you test the radicchio it won’t seem done. Baking time will vary on roll and pan size and amount of radicchio.
- Cool for five minutes, before removing from the pan. Best served warm while the radicchio is steamy inside the bread.
This is not a sponsored post. The recipe and opinions are my own. I was given a box of exceptional radicchio to sample.