Among the abundance of fall and winter vegetables, the family of chicories holds a generous sway : escarole, endive, curly endive, sugarloaf - pain de sucre, puntarella (also called chicoré de Catalogne)... Then the many Italian chicories (radicchio di Chioggia, di Treviso, di Verona, variegato di Castlefranco) : colorful, bitter, spicy, and dew-clinging crunchy when eaten raw in salads, its pungency mellowed to a deep earthiness when cooked. All of them cultivated in the Veneto region of Italy and enjoying PGI (protected geographical indication) status. Chicory is, after all, native to Europe, and Italian radicchio is simply, well, special, but not always easy to procure elsewhere. The more familiar variety found in the States is Chioggia (pictured below).
Now I've been asked to prepare the dîner des vignerons (winemakers' dinner) at les Vins du coin (an intimate natural wine tasting fair in the Loire Valley) where a gathering of winemakers from around the Touraine and Cheverny, passionate about their grapes—seriously organic if not biodynamic—and their wine—nothing taken away, nothing added—who have chosen to simply accompany the fermentation of their jus as it hums and weaves itself into a sublime mineral-toned liquid that literally sings with all things root, shoot, flower and fruit.
I'll be serving vegetable fare to this bunch of hearty-eating paysans (grape farmers) who certainly love a nice portion of meat on their plates... so I need to make them a dish that will excite taste buds and satiate belly and spirit. That's where the idea for a robust risotto al radicchio rosso comes in—all that earthy chicory bitterness might just fool their senses! And rosso because instead of wetting the rice with white wine, I'll be using red, the likes of Cabernet franc, quite convenient as it's one of the celebrated wine varietals grown in the Loire region.
As you can imagine, this is a soirée I am truly looking forward to! Serving dishes full of fresh vegetables with natural wines, all minerally and "naked," that just sing together! (As a natural winemaker friend from the Touraine describes them : offering both the dark of the soil and the luminous of the stars.) And I'll certainly let you know if the bellies of these gars du Loir et Cher do sit pleasantly full and satiating smiles stretch across their faces. And if you're in the neighborhood, come to the wine tasting in Blois, December 1 - 2 : les Vins du coin. Otherwise, why not try out the recipe below yourself!
First a handful of links to this and that :
— a touching video on the IFAW site of an baby elephant being rescued from a well he had fallen into.
— an article in the UK Telegraph on land grabbing, an alarming practice becoming more widespread around the world, in poorer countries. Another related article on the viacampesina website.
— and a couple three good natural wine blogs, if you're interested in learning more :
|autumn colors and flavors|
RISOTTO al RADICCHIO ROSSO - serves 6
= best from mid- fall through winter, when the chicories are at their best
360 gr Carnaroli rice (or Arborio, or Vialone nano, if you can find it)
200 gr | 7 oz red onion, finely chopped
1 ½ - 2 liters vegetable broth
1 kg | 2 lbs Chioggia radicchio
120 ml (1 small glass) Cabernet franc (room temperature)
300 gr | 10 oz carrots
60 gr | 2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano (room temperature) freshly grated
90 gr | 3 oz fresh sheep milk ricotta (room temperature), or leave out and add a bit more Parmigiano for a more zesty bitter taste)
Extra virgin olive oil
60 gr | 2 oz unsalted butter (room temperature), or use 3 tBsp extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 2 tangerines (optional)
Generous handful blanched almonds (optional)
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
||| Preheat the oven to 160 ˚C (325 ˚F). Spread the almonds out in a baking dish and toast in the oven on the middle rack until the turning slightly golden, 10 - 15 minutes. Shake the pan once or twice during roasting. Let cool then coarsely chop and set aside.
||| Wash, dry and zest the tangerines and set aside somewhere warm to dry for a couple hours. (If in a hurry, place in a spent oven for 4 - 5 minutes, or in a skillet over very low heat for 20 - 30 seconds, stirring constantly).
||| In a large saucepan bring the vegetable broth to a boil, reduce the heat and keep at a slight simmer.
||| Preheat the oven to 200 ˚C (400 ˚F). Wash the carrots, no need to peel if organic. Dice them rather smallish. Toss lightly with extra-virgin olive oil and spread out in a single layer in a baking dish. Roast in the oven on the high rack until beginning to brown but still crunchy, 10 or so minutes. Immediately season with sea salt to taste.
||| Trim off the bottom of each head of radicchio and remove any bruised leaves. Cut in half lengthwise and remove the white core then cut into wide lengthwise strips. Wash well then spin dry. Coarsely chop a few leaves of radicchio and set aside for garnish. Heat a couple generous drizzles of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the radicchio in thin layers and cook uncovered over medium-high heat until wilted and beginning to brown. (You might need to do this in 2 – 3 batches, depending on the size of your skillet). Transfer to a plate and immediately season with sea salt.
||| Heat a couple generous drizzles of olive oil in a large wide heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat until runny. Add the red onion and sauté until soft, approx 3 minutes. Add the rice, stirring to coat, and toast for 2 - 3 minutes. Wet with the red wine and stir until absorbed, 1 - 2 minutes. Add a first large ladle of simmering broth and cook until almost absorbed, stirring occasionally. Add more broth one ladle at a time, stirring with each addition and allowing it to be mostly absorbed before adding the next (approx 4 – 5 ladles). Taste for doneness around 14 minutes (the rice should be nicely al dente). Add the chicory and carrots. Stir well and cook for another minute or two, adding more broth if necessary (I like my risotto to be all’onda (wavy or somewhat wet). Remove from the heat. Add the Parmigiano, ricotta and butter. Cover and let stand for 2 minutes. Remove the cover and mantecare (stir rapidly) with a wooden spoon to create a creamy consistency. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
||| Serve immediately in hot soup plates garnished with a sprinkle of any or all of the following : dried tangerine zest, radicchio leaves, roasted almonds, grated Parmigiano... and a drizzle of olive oil.