In compiling my notes for this piece I thought that first it might be worth noting a few points about the main ingredient, radicchio. With this post, I intend to share a very unusual and seemingly old-world recipe that I discovered for a cake some of you might consider preparing as an addition to your holiday menus.
Radicchio in a cake, why not?
For those of you who are not very familiar with radicchio, or don’t care for it because it can be bitter, you may want to give it a second look after reading this post.
Radicchio is low in calories, easy to cook, contains high levels of several vitamins and minerals—not a bad start!
It is categorized as chicory as is, for example, Belgian endive, frisee, and/or escarole, and is sometimes called Italian chicory.
In the northern Italian region of Veneto, distinct varieties of radicchio are named after several towns north, south, and west of Venice. For example:
- Chioggia, the variety most familiar to us, is a small cabbage-like, dark maroon ball.
- Treviso, similar in color to chioggia but with long slender leaves, is shaped more like a small head of romaine lettuce.
- Other maroon varieties are from Verona. A variety from Castelfranco, with light yellow-green, rough-edged leaves and speckles of maroon and pink, is more difficult to find in the United States.
Most of you have probably encountered radicchio included in a salad where it adds a punctuation of color and a slight bitterness. What you may not know is that radicchio is delicious cooked and can, with great success, be grilled, roasted, braised, and sautéed, transforming the color, texture, and flavor. The bitterness lessens, the color darkens, the texture softens, and the flavor mellows.
The uses, pairings, and combinations are many. Mixed in risotto, sauced over pasta, served atop polenta, paired with cannellini beans, drizzled with balsamic, and paired with gorgonzola are just a few examples.
What really piqued my interest was the use of radicchio in a dessert. It was actually the first recipe I tried after I acquired the wonderful book Recipes and Dreams from an Italian Life, by Tessa Kiros. All of the recipes and stories were compiled from households throughout Italy as a tribute to the women, their cooking, and their wisdom. That practice of preserving the family recipes has always appealed to me.
The recipe I am sharing with you here, Radicchio Cake with White Chocolate Icing, was one of the recipes shared with the author by her sister-in-law who comes from Chioggia, one of those prominent radicchio towns in the Veneto region of Italy I mentioned earlier.
Radicchio Cake with White Chocolate Icing
1 generous tablespoon dried breadcrumbs
2½ tablespoons of sugar plus ½ cup of sugar
½ head of a Chioggia radicchio
7 tablespoons of butter at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 generous tablespoon of brandy (or grappa)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
5½ ounces of white chocolate for the icing
Preheat the over to 350 degrees
Butter an 8-inch round springform pan, scatter the bread crumbs over, and shake out the excess.
Boil 4 cups of water and add the 2½ tablespoons of sugar to dissolve. Halve the radicchio and break up the leaves. Add to the hot water, stirring for a few minutes until the leaves soften. Drain and pat dry with paper towels, set aside. Once cool, rough chop, then place in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze as much moisture out as possible. Place in a work bowl and separate the chopped leaves with a fork.
Whisk the butter with the ½ cup of sugar until creamy. Whisk the eggs in one by one until combined. Add the zest, brandy, vanilla extract, and nutmeg and again whisk to combine. Then mix in the cooled radicchio until completely combined.
Next add the flour, baking powder, and pinch of salt and fold until smooth and combined.
Place the batter in the prepared baking pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack completely before removing and plating the cake.
While the cake is cooling, break up the chocolate melt in a double-boiler pot. Once the chocolate has melted and begun to cool and thicken slightly, spread over the top of the cake. Once the icing has set the cake can be cut and served.
With earlier posts I have featured a mostarda, a salsa, and jams, which I enjoy making as much as I enjoy eating. I am always on the lookout for new pairings and ingredient combinations of this type. Luckily for me, in the Pantry section of the Kiros book was a recipe for Red Radicchio Marmalade, which I just had to try because radicchio was the main event right now.
My marmalade recipe is an adaptation of the published recipe either because I chose to make some changes due to personal taste considerations or an ingredient could not be sourced and needed substitution.
For example, red (rosso) vermouth was substituted for the red wine because I felt it paired better with the bay leaves; my balsamic syrup was used in place of the straight balsamic vinegar; at the time I was unable to source either Zibbibo or muscatel raisins and substituted dried Michigan cherries from my pantry; since no apples were specified in the published recipe, I chose one sweet (Gala), and one tart (Granny Smith).
Red Radicchio Marmalade
2¼ to 2½ pounds Chioggia radicchio
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups sugar
1 cup red vermouth
2 tablespoons balsamic syrup
Juice of 1 large lemon
1/3 cup dried Michigan cherries
3 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes
2 apples, cored and coarsely shredded
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Quarter the radicchio through the stem end, remove the stem and then thinly slice and shred the leaves using a knife.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan with a lid. Once hot but not smoking, add the shredded radicchio and using tongs mix and turn to coat with the oil and cook until it begins to soften.
Meanwhile, squeeze the lemon into a work bowl and remove the seeds. Cut the apples in quarters and remove the core to create a flat side. Do not peel. Use a box grater to coarsely shred the apples directly into the lemon juice, discarding the skin at the end. Mix the shredded apple with the lemon juice.
Once the radicchio has started to cook down, add the sugar, vermouth, balsamic syrup, cherries, bay leaves, chili flakes, apples in lemon juice, 1 cup of water, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine all the ingredients thoroughly, reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pan and cook down for 1½ hours. Stir occasionally as the sauté thickens and gets a jam-like consistency.
Remove the lid completely and simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring often until most all of the liquid has cooked off. Allow the dark colored marmalade to cool and transfer to jars to be stored in the refrigerator for a month and frozen for up to 6 months.
This condiment pairs well with a cheese course, especially blue cheeses, strong flavored semi-soft cheeses such as taleggio, robiolo, or an aged pecorino. It would complement grilled sausages and venison. Allow the marmalade to come to room temperature before serving.
As you can see, radicchio has many more uses that just adding color and a little crunch to a mixed tossed salad. Perhaps you will try one of these recipes, or explore some of the cooked options mentioned. Better yet, visit the Veneto region where during the winter months radicchio is plentiful and can be enjoyed like the Italians do in its simplest form: roasted or grilled with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Eat well, be well.
Good recipes should be passed down and handed over for safekeeping, only to be passed down and handed over once again!