Many years ago I grew an amazing, red-and-green-mottled leaf chicory called Variegata di Castelfranco (the Variegata meaning variegated, meaning mottled, meaning multi-colored in patches or streaks). It was a brilliant performer over the winter, but its bitterness definitely needed tempering by winter’s cold. Now Johnny’s Selected Seeds has released a similar all-season chicory called Bel Fiore (http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-9021-bel-fiore.aspx) I’ve grown it this spring and summer, and in both seasons it’s been wonderful.
To look at it in the garden is to easily pass over it. See what I mean? It’s pretty and all, but nothing that would make you stop and drop your jaw.
But like the stereotypical librarian of old who instantly goes from stern school marm to scintillating beauty by unpinning and shaking out the hair bun, taking off the heavy-framed glasses (yes, the ones perched on her nose), and, perhaps, undoing a button or two on her blouse, this radicchio turns into an absolute conversation stopper and drool initiator when you take off its outer garments and open it up a bit. Here, have a look?
Who knew that something so raging, so flaming, so passionate was hiding under those demure lime-green wrappers. So as far as vegetables go, that’s got to qualify as sexy, right? Right! But you can take that sexy to a whole other level by getting these babies on the grill.
That’s right, the grill. I mean, it’s summer and if you are sautéing or roasting or baking, you are just not cool (literally), but if you are out basting and grilling, you are sexy. Sure, there’s searing heat and tongues of flame lapping up at you, but out there you feel every breeze, and you probably have a cold one in hand to counterbalance those heavy tongs and spatula that are required for this substantial style of cooking. Grilling probably gained its sexy cache in the primeval past when it sent powerful smoke signals to neighbors that you had bested a creature that was in many ways your superior. Yes, you had brought down and brought home the beast and now you were eating its flesh and growing your clan at the expense of a mysterious and powerful being . Why, only baby-making rivaled the thrill, value, energy, and pure mystery of the hunt, so hence the grill became the non-baby-makers space to confront the ultimate and triumph over it. How’s that for some hip-pocket anthropology?
Well, however it came to be and whatever it meant in the past, grilling is now the egalitarian culinary pastime of the nation, and I want to tell you, if you don’t already know, that seemingly tender greens, especially half heads of things like Romaine lettuce and this Bel Fiore radicchio, make for great grilling. I took these halved heads of radicchio, liberally poured some olive oil over them, allowing it to run into the folds and pockets of the tightly packed leaves. Then lots of crushed salt and pepper from the mill and some garlic powder over the top of each half. I transferred them to the grill cut side up for a few minutes, then eventually turned them over and let the cut side face down for a minute of two to finish the deed.
Just imagine a racy, red radicchio seared with grill marks, and the odors of olive oil and smoke mingling together on the tongue. God, how sexy! And how delicious! This summer let your hair down a bit in the garden, grow something a little racy, then get it on the grill!