My deep love for radicchio may have something to do with its glorious color or some feeling that I’m doing my body good, but I chalk it up more to my undying love for all things Italy. Some of the farms around here grow the very Italian radicchio di Treviso, which I buy unfailingly at the market whenever it appears, generally with a quarter pound of pancetta in the other hand.
If you’ve never tried it, let me be the first to tell you that radicchio wrapped in a salty cured meat is one of the best goddam things you’ll ever put in your mouth.
So here’s tonight’s absolutely ravishing, surprisingly quick, and thankfully not-too-bad-for-you dinner (you’ll be glad when you’re licking your plate clean). You’ll need to run to the store for this one, but with only a few ingredients, the trip won’t take long.
What you’ll need for you and a friend:
about 1 cup of polenta
a pat of butter
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
one or two heads of radicchio
3–6 oz. very thinly sliced prosciutto or pancetta
2/3 c. balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
Part 1: Make some polenta. I am not fond of the instant variety, and handmade is so, so easy: Just boil some water and salt it. Add the polenta (rough cornmeal) in a slow stream, whisking constantly, then simmer over medium heat, stirring often with a straight-bottomed spoon, for 20 minutes or so. You want it soft, so go with a ratio of 4–5 parts water to 1 part polenta. Add a little milk if you like, and always, always finish with a pat of butter and a good handful or two of Parmigiano-Reggiano. You’ll have more than enough for two.
Part 2: Quarter your radicchio. I prefer the tubular Treviso, but if you can only find round Chiogga radicchio, that will do just fine. Wrap each quarter tightly in a piece of prosciutto (if the pieces are narrow, use two). Heat a little olive oil in a pan and place the wrapped radicchio in the pan, seam-side down. Turn the radicchio often until the prosciutto crisps up. Remove the quarters from the pan and give them a nice sprinkling of pepper.
Now add another tablespoon of oil and the balsamic to the pan and boil it until it has reduced and thickened up a little bit. This is your sauce — wonderful on the food, but don’t hold your face over the pan, or I guarantee you’ll start sneezing.
Time to eat: Spoon some polenta onto your plate, then a couple of quarters of radicchio. Spoon some sauce over both…then eat quickly before your friend steals it off your plate.