The North American diet doesn’t include many bitter flavours, and rarely celebrates bitters. Yet bitter greens such as chicories, which includes radicchio, are high in nutrients and are well known for their health benefits. Using bitter flavours increases a chef’s pallet of options and the colours — rich reds and maroons to bright pinks — add a visual flare to salads. Plus, many radicchios are bred for autumn winter harvests, making them an ideal vegetable for salads and cooking as days get colder and shorter.
Adding bitter flavours to your diet can be a gradual process. As you regularly consume bitter flavours, your taste buds become more accustomed to bitter flavours. Plus, there are some techniques to consider when cooking with bitters:
- Dilution: Don’t start out by biting into a plate of raw radicchio. Use a little it of bitter in a dish. Try adding a little bit radicchio to your salads for flavour and colour, mixing with other greens such as lettuce, arugula, kale and spinach. Also, try milder bitter greens such as frisée endive.
- Caramelization: Roasting bitter vegetables helps bring out natural sweetness and balances the bitterness. Some radicchios, like Sugarloaf and Chioggia varieties are easy to cut into slices or wedges for grilling.
- Salt: Adding salt helps to reduce the taste perception of bitterness. Consider ingredients such as feta cheese or prosciutto ham that add flavour and saltiness to a dish.
- Sweetness: Adding sweetness balances bitter flavours. Using seasonal fruits in salads is a perfect way to add sweetness. Likewise, using honey in a salad dressing can add a sweet touch.
Overall, try contrasting bitter flavours with other strong flavours — the bitterness of radicchio in a salad with sweet pears, salty cheese or prosciutto and sour balsamic vinaigrette.
One other tip: most chicories are mildest when grown in colder weather. Seeking out radicchio in late-fall and early-winter will yield the most balanced flavour and spectacular colours.