Although as a nation we consume vast amounts of coffee or beer, bitter flavours on our plate are mostly ignored, with little attention given to these vibrant leaves which are not only delicious but also a great boost to the system in colder months.
Traditionally known to aid digestion, they are nutrient dense and packed full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. An excellent choice for gut health, they provide prebiotic material to help feed our bodies’ good bacteria and sustain a healthy gut biome.
Lighter bitter notes are present in cruciferous veg such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, rocket and radishes, but some leaves such as endive, radicchio and pain de sucre really do pack a punch in terms of flavour. If you struggle to know how to use them, then understanding what flavour pairings work is key; balance the bitterness with sharp, salty, creamy or sweet flavours such as:
- Balsamic or sherry vinegar
- Citrus (lemon or orange)
- Cream, crème fraiche or cheese (blue, parmesan or goat's)
- Nuts (especially hazelnuts or walnuts)
- Seasonal fruit (apple, fig, pear, poached quince)
- Salty meats or fish (bacon, ham or anchovies)
Radicchio is a real favourite: used raw, griddled or roasted until mellow, it can revive a palate jaded by stodgy cold-weather cooking. Readily available this season and a great base for winter salads, it keeps well in the fridge as a whole head for at least a week, possibly two. If used in several meals, peel off the outer leaves first, rather than cutting it in half. Although tightly packed, it is always worth washing the leaves before using.
A beautifully bold red, used in salads the small internal leaves can be kept whole; the larger ones are best torn into smaller pieces (mix with milder salad leaves if you prefer). A sharp, acidic dressing is a must; the sourness of lemon juice or vinegar is a great tonic for excessive bitterness.
Try using a good vinaigrette to dress radicchio, and throwing in with some diced apple, toasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese for a simple side dish.
The leaves also hold up well to cooking, which tempers the bitterness too; wonderful shredded into a risotto, grilled in wedges or in a bubbling, creamy gratin.
Here are our top three easy autumn ideas to try radicchio:
Radicchio and mushroom frittata is a winning combination of aromatic thyme, pungent blue cheese and hearty mushrooms. Like many egg dishes this is good warm rather than piping hot. It needs nothing more than a green salad for a light vegetarian lunch or dinner.
Chargrilled radicchio with squash and goat's cheese is simplicity itself, and showcases a beautiful balance of bittersweet griddled radicchio, sweet roasted squash and salty cheese.
Radicchio and bacon pasta is quick to make, marrying sweet onions, salty parmesan, crisp, smoky bacon and a little cream with radicchio's pleasant bitterness