Bitter. An overrated emotion, but an underused taste. I’m not jaded, but I have been embracing the bitter lately.
Baking and braising vegetables tames the bitter and brings out their natural sweetness. Take radicchio for example. A sprinkle of seasonings, some oil and vinegar, and 30 minutes later you have a new vegetable side dish in your repertoire.
But why stop at a side dish? You can make yourself an amazing lunch by adding in olive oil preserved tuna filets. No, not your normal canned tuna, which might remind you of an old school tuna casserole. (No one needs that.) Olive oil preserved tuna filets are significantly different, better, and can be found on most grocer’s shelves.
Radicchio varieties Treviso and Castelfranco work best for this recipe. Trevisos are deep red, elongated and look like giant endives. Castelfrancos are also elongated, but are pale green with red specks. They are less bitter and cook quickly. The common supermarket variety, Chioggia — the kind that looks like a little red cabbage — tends to be too tough, is more bitter, and is better for recipes that you’d shave thinly or braise for longer periods of time.
Of the five taste categories (salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami), bitter has long been ignored. I think we have it hidden in our genetic makeup from our hunter and gather ancestors that bitter meant poison, which equaled death. Times have changed. Embrace your inner bitterness!
Here’s the recipe:
- 2 heads Treviso or Castelfranco radicchio
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher (not table) salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper flakes, or cayenne
- Approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus extra to drizzle post-baking
- Approximately 2 tablespoons of white or red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- Two 6-ounce jars of olive oil preserved tuna filets (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 400F (204C)
- Spray or brush olive oil into a 13 X 9 (23 X 33 cm) pan
- Remove any loose leaves from the radicchio heads
- Cut each radicchio head in half lengthwise, and then again in half (to make four long quarters from each head). Keep the cores intact to hold all the leaves together
- Stagger the radicchio quarters head to tail in the pan
- Sprinkle salt, pepper, and red pepper between the leaves of each radicchio quarter
- Lightly drizzle olive oil and vinegar between the leaves of each radicchio quarter
- If using, drain the oil from the tuna filets and break into bite sized pieces. Distribute tuna in between leaves. Alternatively use tuna for half of the radicchio, and leave the other half plain for those who may not want it
- Pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the baking dish
- Cover the baking dish tightly with foil or lid
- Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil or lid and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes
- Remove the radicchio to a platter or individual plates and drizzle with your best quality extra virgin olive oil
Serving suggestion: Great as is, but also pairs very nicely with Provenance Soup (Dried Fava Bean)