Raw bitter leaves must have a tonic effect. Am I right? I feel virtuous eating them – not as some sort of penance because they taste bad, but because I feel so alive when I crunch into them. In a let’s-bleed-you-with-leeches-to-make-you-feel-better kind of way, they taste like they will clean my blood. And that bitter edge? I love it. I find myself craving bitter greens – the kales, the collards – and chicories – the radicchios and endives – with great regularity this time of year. It may be sacrilege to say in these parts, but if I had to choose between only being able to have tomatoes or chicories for the rest of my days, I’d choose chicories.
Why, you may ask, does my blood need cleaning? Well, I’m not sure it does, but I find cleaning things incredibly anxiety-reducing. As I’ve written here before, my closets are never cleaner than when I have multiple projects due at once. If I’m going to clean out the kitchen cupboards and organize the tool shelves in the garage, why not scrape my blood clean with bitter salads, too?
Of course I wouldn’t want it to get too clean. That could be dangerous, right? So in this case I’ve thrown in a fair amount of blue cheese (I like a mountain gorgonzola – neither terribly soft nor rock hard) and a few toasted hazelnuts for good measure. I find the traumatically strong tastes of radicchio and blue cheese magically tone each other down. The sharpness of the cheese and the bitter of the leaves giving into each other, softening each other, as if by each being so difficult to take they understand each other and make the other one not need to be so very much like that. (I think I’m still talking about this salad but I’m starting to see why we like this salad so much at our house….)
The secret to this little addictive radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad is, I must admit, in the agrodulce. The fine people at Katz and Company once sent me some samples of their agrodulce – a slightly sweetened vinegar – and I found it so useful and we all loved the salads I made with it so much that one morning I discovered myself spending a rather ridiculous amount of money online ordering up a full assortment. I mean, I make very tasty red wine vinegar myself. Why not just doctor that up with some sugar in the dressing, which really does work just as well? I don’t know. Just know this: you can just add sugar to the vinegar and the salad turns out great. If, however, you’re in the market for some fancy “artisan vinegar” or find yourself in the happy possession of same, here is your chance to use it.
Radicchio hazelnut blue cheese salad
First, make the dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl. I use equal part extra virgin olive oil and agrodulce. For a single head of radicchio, use 2 teaspoons of each or 2 teaspoons oil and good red wine vinegar plus a teaspoon of sugar. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. If you want to be a bit fancier, mince a small shallot and let that sit in the agrodulce or vinegar for a few minutes before you add the oil.
Second, trim the radicchio (trevissio is also tasty here), chop it into bite-size pieces or slices, rinse it, and dry it. Add to the salad bowl and toss with the dressing.
Third, you can now, if you like to keep things simple, just eat the salad. It’s great just like this and I’ve been known to down a whole bowlful by myself at lunch. Fancy it up, though, by adding about 1/2 cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts and 1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese. Or just use one or the other – all the couplings are delicious! You can toss these in or make it fancy by dividing the salad between salad plates and sprinkling the nut and cheese on each plate. Top with a grinding or two of black pepper if you’re so inclined.