This Radicchio di Treviso; some ruby beetroot; a red cabbage which was more purple than red – ‘tyrian purple’ our friend announced, the colour of the imperial robes of roman emperors, which somehow made the lunch grander and might be useful for trivial pursuit one day; two red onions and lots of scarlet fleshed oranges. It has been a week of red roots, food, hands, tempers for an hour or so (mine, very petty, I blame the rain) and bay leaves,
My favourite, the radicchio di Treviso sitting at the top next to the chair, is a extraordinary leaf chicory from Teviso near Venice in northeast Italy that has alluring deep red leaves and very thick white veins. Radicchio di treviso has a bold character, it’s the epitome of a bitter-sweet leaf, with a warm, spicy peppery aftertaste. We don’t find it in Rome very often and when we do we usually eat it just so, as a flaming salad leaf. But occasionally, if I find more at the market, we bake it.
Baking softens the flavours of radicchio, taking some of the edge off the bitterness and encouraging its sweetness and it’s curious and distinct flavour. The leaves collapse and wither like old rags which sounds terrible, actually it’s quite charming. Well I think it is charming, but then I think the delicious insides of a baked aubergine, which look like an old dirty dishcloth slumped the colander, are charming!
We baked two of the four bulbs to go beside a very plain risotto for lunch on Monday, a delcious combination. I cut each long bulb in quarters lengthways, then tucked the eight wedges into a well oiled oven dish. Salt and freshly ground black pepper, more olive oil and a bay leaf, before I covered the dish tightly with tin foil and baked it for about 30 minutes in a medium oven.
I bought beetroot, a small red cabbage and some really big, plump, Sicilian salted capers to make a Fergus Henderson’s Red salad.
I have been promising myself this ever since I read Ruth Reichl’s post back in December, the ‘kind of deconstructed borscht.’ It is a most striking scarlet salad of raw grated beetroot, red onion, red cabbage and caper dressing which you top with a big blob of creme fraiche. You then proceed to jumble the whole thing up into a delicious pink mess.
I misplaced the creme fraiche ignoring maybe one the most wonderful recipe instruction I have ever read – nustle your blob of crème fraîche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers.
A red salad.
2 raw beetroot, peeled and finely grated
¼ raw red cabbage with its core cut out, very finely sliced
1 small red onion, peeled, cut in half from top to bottom and finely sliced
6 healthy dollops of crème fraîche
Healthy splashes of extra virgin olive oil
A little gesture of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
A small handful of extra-fine capers
Sea salt and black pepper
Mix everything together for the dressing. Toss all your raw red vegetables in the dressing, then on six plates place a bushel of this red mixture. Next to this, nustle your blob of crème fraîche as if the two ingredients were good friends, not on top of each other as if they were lovers. A very striking salad ready for the eater to mess up.
I think will be making this salad alot, it will be delicious with pickled herrings and vodka.
I must admit that I still am extremely fond of beetroot that come in families of four. Ones that have been boiled to near death and preserved in a rather solid, surprisingly heavy, thick moulded plastic vacuum pack. Do you know the ones? My feelings are largely sentimental, this was the beetroot my grandma Roddy used to buy in west yorkshire when we were young. She would cut each ruby ball in very thick slices and then douse them with lots of very strong English malt vinegar and serve it for tea with corned beef. We would shudder, eat and laugh at our very very red mouths and beetroot juice speckled clothes.
I am however even fonder of slightly shriveled, sweet, intensely flavoured, roasted beetroot with garlic and bay leaves.
I first had this roasted beetroot when I worked as a waitress at the Duke of Cambridge pub and it’s sister pub the Crown in London. There was a fantastic chef called Caroline who would roast vast trays of these wonderful English organic beetroot. Each bulb was cut in two, put face down in a very well oiled baking tray with lots of whole but squashed cloves of garlic, some bay leaves and probably more olive oil. The tray was covered snugly with tin foil and then put in a hot oven for about 50 minutes when the bulbs are very tender to the point of a knife. Caroline would serve the beetroot with a dressing made from olive oil, balsamic vinegar and the soft baked garlic squeezed from the skin.
I got very red hands paring away the skin from the beetroot for lunch, plastic gloves would have been sensible but of course I didn’t have any. I separated another head of raddichio into curls and hard-boiled four eggs before arranging everything on a big plate along with the garlic from the roasted beetroot.
I made mayonnaise too – following Elizabeth Davids recipe – for the first time in ages and promised myself I will make it more often. I stirred a spoonful of very hot horseradish in the creme fraiche and cut the sour dough bread from the bakery Passi.
Another deconstructed lunch which required a certain amount of messing up, mayonnaise on eggs, creme fraiche on the beetroot, more mayonnaise scooped up in the curl of the radicchio, garlic squeezed out of its skin, everything squashed on the bread, more olive oil ( I was sorry we didn’t have any sweet-cured herring fillets, next time!). A rather mad looking plateful by the end, all pink and cream coloured and very very tasty.
I had hoped to have finished a post about the rabbit I cooked last weekend by today……. but I haven’t, which is rather frustrating, hence this rather ad hoc, bits and pieces red week post……..Oh yes, maybe we are thinking the same thing, if you prefer to pet rather than eat rabbit you will probably want to ignore my next post. Have a good weekend.