Smoked Cherry Grilled Radicchio Salad is a striking salad full of bright colours and flavours. Sweet cherries are smoked then served alongside creamy goat cheese all on top of a bed of bitter-sweet grilled radicchio. Served al fresco with a splash of simple vinaigrette.
Composed summer salads are a ‘thing’ of mine. I like to play around with strong flavours to create edible works of art such as this Pink Grapefruit, Endive, and Avocado Salad with Prociutto. Of course, if you prefer to toss all the flavours together in one bowl, this great Grilled Peach Fruit Salad with Burrata is not to be missed!
Smoked Cherry Grilled Radicchio Salad
A bit of effort and attention to flavour profiles pays off in this ruby red salad. It’s easy to plate a gorgeous salad when ingredients are fresh beautiful seasonal cherries and radicchio. Taking the time to char the radicchio mellows out it’s flavour a wee bit.
The cherries are a little sour, a little sweet, and a bit smoky. They pair wonderfully with the tart tang of goat chèvre. The salad is then tied together with a simple vinaigrette that allows the other ingredients to shine.
What is Radicchio?
Radicchio (pronounced RAH-DEE-KEY-OH) is a herbacious perennial from the chicory group (which also includes Belgian endive). Though it looks a lot like red cabbage, the red coloured leaves with white veins are characteristically bitter and often spicy in flavour.
There are several uniquely beautiful varieties of radicchio. In addition to the small round variety (chioggia) used in this recipe, both castelfranco (round and white with red flecks) and treviso (red and white; shaped long like romaine lettuce) would also work in this salad.
There are more lesser known, difficult to find varieties that range in colour from creamy white, to green and brilliant red with mixed colour combinations. They may be long or round, small like a tight fist or large like a head of iceberg lettuce.
Radicchio varieties are named after the Italian regions from which they originate.
Why is Radicchio Bitter?
Bitter isn’t a flavour profile that many people seek out. This is because plants evolved to have bitter compounds as protection against predators (human or otherwise). Since many bitter flavoured plants are also toxic, and historically it’s in our best interest to avoid these foods.
However, humans are a curious species. Think about bitter foods you might encounter on a regular basis; bitter chocolate, olive oil, hops, coffee, green tea, and artichokes just to name a few. Without our species’ curiosity and ability to reason (in regards to bitterness), none of these foods would be as popular in the human diet as they are today.
Embracing the Bitterness of Radicchio
Originally, radicchio was grown and eaten throughout Italy. It is found in Italian cuisine simply grilled with olive oil, mixed into pasta or risotto, or eaten raw in salads and tapenades. Italians embrace the bitter flavour (but many aren’t fans of anything sour!) of raw radicchio, while also appreciating the mellower, slightly sweeter flavour of cooked radicchio.
Grilled Radicchio vs. Slow Cooked Radicchio
To grill radicchio, simply cut it into wedges, and toss to coat with olive oil in a large bowl. Then grill the wedges (on a grilling pan or barbecue) on medium-high heat for 5 minutes until there are charred edges and softened inner leaves. Chicories don’t caramelize and become sweet like other vegetables (most notably cruciferous) do. However, they do mellow just a little bit.
The bitterness of radicchio is also a fabulous foil to rich slow cooked dishes such as cheese tarts, strudels, and poultry stuffing.
Besides cooking, there are other ways to tame the bitterness of this little vegetable. The easiest way is to soak chopped radicchio in cold water before cooking. This will decrease the amount of bitter compounds you ingest.
In salads, such as this Smoked Cherry Grilled Radicchio Salad, other components such as the goat chèvre and vinaigrette play an important part in taming and even complimenting the bitter flavour.
Other Components in this Grilled Radicchio Salad
This salad is a great example of how a few simple quality ingredients shine together in the finished product. Radicchio is available year round (as is chèvre) as it is quite a sturdy vegetable. Select radicchio that has tight plump leaves with bright colour and no brown spots.
I highly recommend making this salad during cherry season. When creating a dish with very few ingredients, using quality cherries is even more important. To smoke the cherries, I used my Breville Smoking Gun and some cherry wood to smoke the pitted cherries. Use a cold smoker to the same effect or skip this step altogether.
Assembling the Smoked Cherry Grilled Radicchio Salad
Choose a large dish or platter for your salad. I used a white plate but this salad would also look amazing on a black platter. Start by arranging the grilled radicchio and butter lettuce on the plate. Then scatter the smoked cherries on top of the leaves.
Using two teaspoons, shape the goat chèvre into quenelles or just drop small bits of cheese at will. Finish the salad with freshly chopped chives and a simple vinaigrette. That’s it!
This is a salad that needs to be eaten in one seating. I don’t recommend refrigerating any leftovers. However, if you plate the salad individually, you can refrigerate any leftovers for a day or two as long as you haven’t added the cheese.
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