“Two words you don’t hear much together are ‘radicchio’ and ‘soup.'”
That’s what Bertrand said when he saw that I decided to throw caution to the wind and add the leftover sauteed radicchio in with the (also leftover) caramelized onions, chopped carrots and celery, now all sizzling in the Staub.
I’ve always had a soft spot for radicchio. Ever since I first tasted it, fresh from the oven with sizzling melted cheese splayed over it, I was hooked. This happened at Bice, the swanky Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, which was a popular lunch spot for the publishing world back in the late Eighties. I remember the chagrin I felt when my beloved Grilled Radicchio and Smoked Mozzarella was dropped from the menu. Like Danny DeVito’s character in the original “Get Shorty,” I would request it, anyway. Sometimes my wish was granted; other times, not. Never knew whether it was their uppity chef or an annoyed waiter.
That dish was one of my first attempted re-creations, which I’d tinker with long before I began to give much of a damn about spending more time in the kitchen. Like steak and rice, or turkey pinwheels, grilled radicchio wasn’t necessarily my comfort food, but something I’d make for myself when I wanted to get a little fancier than chips and salsa, Cup-a-Soup or takeout.
Recently, the Italian chicory (as it’s sometimes called) returned in two spectacular forms: a pasta dish from our friend Colu Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta cookbook, and at L.A.’s Kismet, whose radicchio tart I attempted a few posts back and continue to make whenever we have guests who haven’t encountered it to yet.
And now a healthy update: Did you know that radicchio is high in antioxidants and contains high polyphenol levels, which help neutralize free radicals, help provide mental sharpness and keen eyesight and lower incidence of stomach flu? I know more than a few people coughing in their beds right about now who wish they’d chosen a ball of radicchio instead of that chicken soup…
But I digress. Last night’s guests were virgins to our tarte, so I made it, but with a slight twist. Instead of making it on a spread-out baking-sheet sized single taste, I cut the dough into bite-size tart-lettes and served them as hors d’oeuvres (the only difference in the prep was cutting the dough beforehand so the edges got crisp, and could better hold the lettuce and onion atop them).
The consequence of making individual squares resulted in a noticeable frugality, though, and I found myself with a marginal surplus of extra radicchio and onion. What to do???
Do what we always do with leftovers: make soup! I’m quite proud that I went for it. First, the luxury of having onions that were already chopped and nearly caramelized was such a joy since raw, chopped onions hurt my eyes so much, I quite literally have to wear ski goggles when I chop mine. But their soft translucent slivers embraced the raw carrots and celery in such an inviting way. The second surprise was how, well, generous the radicchio is in sharing its potent flavor. Within a matter of minutes, the chicken broth had turned to full-on radicchio broth. Tasty, yes. But, well, bitter.
“It needs something,” I commented.
“Soup like this needs mushrooms,” said Bertrand when he tasted it, then added, “Soup like this needs sherry.”
I disagreed with both suggestions. Its bitterness needed a creamy and gentle saltiness to counter it. “Must continue reading ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat'” was the first thing that popped into my mind when Samin Nosrat’s method guided me toward the crumbled feta. But that was just the finishing touch. Some brown rice was added first, which provided a nice girth as well as even more flavor absorption.
So, yeah. This one’s a winner. And a healthy one, at that. I can’t recommend it enough—unless you absolutely detest radicchio. In which case, there’s always Cup-a-Soup.
Grilled Radicchio and Onion Soup (Note: This recipe presumes that neither the onion nor the radicchio have been cooked beforehand. If you do, you can do that up to two days before)
- 1 head of radicchio, sliced thinly in slivers
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly in slivers
- 4 T grapeseed oil, divided
- 2 carrots, chopped in 1-2″ pieces
- 2 celery stalks, chopped in 1-2″ pieces
- 2 quarts chicken broth*
- 1 cup brown rice
- crumbled feta cheese for garnish
In large pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil, then add the onion. Cook at medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion has attained a translucent color but not caramelized—about 20-25 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat remaining oil in same pan and cook radicchio, stirring frequently until radicchio has softened and attained a darker shade—about 8-10 minutes. Place onion and radicchio into Dutch oven and mix well, then add carrots and celery. Cook together for about 5-8 minutes, so the flavors mingle well. Pour broth into the mix and bring to a boil, then let simmer for a half hour. Add brown rice and continue to let simmer for another half hour. When serving, garnish with crumbled feta cheese.