Month: December 2015

Radicchio Variations

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

Mise en place

Mise en place

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.

Ready for baking

Ready for baking

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

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.

Icing on the cake!

Icing on the cake!

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.

Radicchio marmalade on the plate

Radicchio marmalade on the plate

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!







All around us the holiday season is now in full stride, which provides numerous opportunities to gather with family and friends around the table to share meals. With so much activity going on though, there never seems to be enough time prepare these larger meals.

So with this post I thought I’d share with you two dishes you can prepare quickly, with few ingredients, and use several different ways—which may help lessen the stress of putting a holiday meal on the table unless, of course, you have hours to spend in the kitchen like I do!

The first dish is a simple, classic tomato sauce prepared with just three ingredients and a little seasoning in less than 30 minutes.

The second dish is polpette, or meatballs, which can be prepared in advance and frozen, served on their own with or without the tomato sauce, with or without pasta, or the next day as leftovers in a sandwich for lunch.

Meatballs are immensely popular and an integral piece of Italian cooking. I have read and tried countless recipes and as such concluded this is a dish that is prepared in as many ways as there are cooks to prepare them.

Beef seems to be the predominant meat used, but both pork (my preference) as well as veal play either a lead or a supporting role. A mixture of all three plus the addition of some pork fat makes for a flavorful meatball. However, I have seen recipes where lamb, or even duck meat has been included.

Prosciutto, cooked ham, sausage, or mortadella are also often added, along with milk-soaked bread, grated cheese, herbs, and spices. I have encountered recipes using swordfish instead of meat, and even a bread-only meatless meatball using eggs and cheese to bind is popular in some southern Italian kitchens.

Meatballs are cooked slowly, either pan sautéed and browned before adding to a sauce, or roasted in the oven, or simply braised in the sauce instead of browning ahead of time.

If you are not going to use the meatballs right away, form them and place the uncooked meatballs on a sheet pan in the freezer for a couple of hours to freeze through. Then transfer to a plastic freezer bag to hold until ready to eat. To cook, you will need to place the defrosted meatballs in a pot of hot simmering tomato sauce and braise and turn for approximately 30 minutes until cooked through.

Alternately, the meatballs can be pan sautéed or oven roasted and then cooled and wrapped for freezing. When ready to use, allow them to defrost completely and finish by braising in the tomato sauce either in the saucepan or the oven (referenced below).


Quick Tomato Sauce

1 28 oz can of plum tomatoes (San Marzano or other) with the juices
2 large garlic cloves, split
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Red chili flakes, if using
Fresh basil leaves or dried oregano, if using

Sauce mise en place

Sauce mise en place

Using a food mill placed over a large work bowl, churn and press the tomatoes into a smooth emulsion that will allow for the removal of any seeds and skins not removed during the canning.

Alternately, if you prefer a more rustic, chunkier sauce, place the contents of the canned tomatoes in a large work bowl. Using your hands, squeeze and break up the tomatoes into whatever size and texture of sauce you are looking for, eliminating the need to use a strainer. I recommend doing this with the work bowl placed in the sink and an apron tied around your waist!

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and once hot (not smoking) add the garlic, sautéing until it just begins to color and infuse the oil.

Add the strained tomatoes stirring to combine. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the oil is incorporated and the sauce has a smooth, silky texture. Add the basil leaves or oregano at this time if using, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the chili flakes if using. Remove from the heat.

You now have a simple foundation tomato sauce that can be used on its own or can be the basis for a more complex meat sauce or Bolognese style sauce.




1 pound ground beef chuck
1 pound ground pork shoulder
1 pound ground veal
2 oz pork fat; chilled in freezer for 15 minutes and finely chopped in the food processor (if the beef and pork are not marbled enough, add the pork fat, which you can get from your butcher or grocer)
½ pound rustic white bread (preferably 1 day old), crust removed
1 cup Half & Half
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk lightly beaten
¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano
2 garlic cloves finely minced
½ cup finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the ground meats and fat to a large work bowl and break up with your hands.

Trim crust from the bread, break up into large pieces, add to another work bowl and pour the Half & Half over to soak until most of the liquid is absorbed. Squeeze the liquid from the bread and then break up and crumble into smaller pieces placing in the bowl with the meats.

To that bowl add the prepared eggs, cheese, garlic, parsley, and seasoning, folding the mixture with your hands until combined, trying to keep the mix as loose as possible. If you overmix the meatballs they can become a little tough and dry after cooking.

Again, with your hands, roll and form the meatballs into a rounds a little larger than a golf ball, and place the finished meatballs on a lightly oiled sheet pan. Place the pan(s) in the refrigerator to chill and set. Yield should be 24 to 30 meatballs.

The chilled meatballs can be cooked in several ways. First, test a small meatball in a sauté pan to make certain the mix is seasoned correctly. If it tastes right, then

  • Sauté in olive oil in a pan, turning as they brown
Browning meatballs

Browning meatballs

  • Roast in a preheated 350- to 400-degree oven on lightly oiled sheet pans, rotating for 15 to 20 minutes until nicely browned
  • Braise directly in the tomato sauce until cooked through, either directly in the sauce pan for 45 minutes, or in a roasting pan with the tomato sauce poured over and then sealed with foil, in a preheated 300-degree oven for approximately 1 hour.

After much experimentation and testing in the kitchen over time my preferred approach is not to freeze the meatballs, and to cook them alone in a sauté pan and allow them to drain on paper towel. At that point they can be plated and refrigerated.

When ready to serve, reheat them thoroughly in the pan of simmering tomato sauce, ladle some sauce in a bowl, place three meatballs atop of the sauce, spoon a little sauce over the top, sprinkle with some grated cheese (many options) and fresh minced parsley, and then lightly drizzle some olive oil around to finish. Serve with a simple salad or sautéed greens and hot, crusty bread.

Finishing in sauce

Finishing in sauce



Alternatively, the meatballs can be served with pasta, or atop a mound of polenta garnished in the manner just described. And, there will be plenty of good leftovers for sandwiches the next day!

Easy enough and delicious too, so why not give them a try? They might not make it to the next day for leftovers!

To know how to eat is to know enough . . .