Friday, February 25, 2005

Radicchio Posted by Hello

A Great Red Head -- Radicchio, That Is

Southern California, apart from what the song said about it never raining, has been inundated with rain recently. This is NOT a good thing for an inveterate ingredient sleuth. Whenever my thoughts turned to outdoor markets last week, they were quickly whisked away by the pitter-patter -- make that hammer-clatter -- of rain against the windows. Sigh -- I realize that this moaning about a little rain preventing outdoor marketing in February will fall on deaf ears in most winter-y parts of the world.

Not to be kept from the sleuthing at hand, however, I grabbed my trusty Totes raincoat and off to my neighborhood (indoor) market I went. As I meandered through the produce aisles, I quickly fell under the spell of the shiny stacks of fruits and vegetables. They seemed to be stacked higher, richer, fuller than ever. Could it be that other Californians were less adventurous than the Ingredient Sleuth? Would they really just stay away from marketing altogether on a rainy day? Leaving all this wondrous produce just for me?

Armed with a handful of clear plastic bags, I began my selections. One after the other, each plastic bag was filled with some tasty item, then clipped shut with a crisp, white twist tie. Finally, just when I thought that the bags had "had their fill" .... there they were, glistening with dew drops (well actually, mist from the automatic sprayers, but let's not ruin the moment!), looking like baby red cabbages: radicchio!

Radicchio was bred from its chicory forebears by the ancient Egyptians. In the Middle Ages, and especially in northern Italy, it was especially popular among monks, whose vegetarian ways kept them always keen to find a new taste sensation to spice up their meals. In the 19th century, northern Italy, especially the Veneto region, excelled in the growing and culinary use of radicchio of several varieties.

The firm, little, red-cabbage look-alikes have a taste all their own. Spicy, slightly bitter, with a tangy bite, radicchio has hit the American food scene and seems here to stay. Domestic growers have taken advantage of growing conditions from northern California to Arizona to provide a crop year-round (see The tasty leaves have become a staple of those mixed-greens, European-style bagged salads that we snap up at the supermarket.

As an addition to salads and pastas, torn or shredded radicchio leaves provide a spicy bite. If preparing the leaves for use, you may wish to save the taproot base and use it as you would a radish or root vegetable; the flavor is too good to toss away, I think.

My favorite way to enjoy radicchio is roasted or grilled. I just halve or quarter the heads, leaving the firm tap-root base intact. After a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a dusting of cinnamon or nutmeg, the little red heads are ready for roasting or grilling. Just before serving, I sometimes gild the lily with a splash of sweet balsamic vinegar -- and maybe just a touch more olive oil. As an accompaniment to chicken, meat or fish, these little wonders combine beautifully with yams or sweet potatoes to provide the bitter/sweet sensation that makes my taste buds sing.

Here's hoping that you will find some tasty radicchio in a market near you. If not, you can always do what my sister did and just grow some among the flowers in your planter boxes. It will be a pretty splash of dark red foliage among your posies and a tasty treat as well.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Salade des Petites Posted by Hello

Veggies -- In Miniature!

Every now and then, my browsings through the supermarkets or outdoor markets cause me to focus on superlative little (is that contradictory?) veggies. Typically, they are of the summer squash variety. Green, yellow, speckled green-and-yellow, white ... they are all just too cute for words.

And, they are way too tiny for me to imagine preparing them en masse as a cooked side dish. But, I have found a better way to go. More tasty -- and more economical. These baby veggies have sweet, subtle flavors that are best appreciated in the uncooked state. That way, all of the freshness, sweetness and chew-ability is maintained.

Simplicity is key for me. Combining several varieties of baby squash, for example, with some halved tiny tomatoes, a few fresh herbs or baby greens, some zippy vinegar or citrus juice, and a splash of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) creates the perfect Salade des petites. And, if you are of the peppery (or peppy!) persuasion, toss on a little bit of red pepper flakes, just for fun!

Bon appetit!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Red Bicyclette Chardonnay Posted by Hello

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Red Bicyclette Wine

During the holidays, my sister introduced me to a new French wine that she found at her local Sentry supermarket in southern Wisconsin. The brand name was Red Bicyclette and we savored every drop of the delicious Chardonnay (2003). It had a full, chewy character but was still bright and refreshing. We quickly placed it near the top of our favorite Chardonnays list.

On the first day that the temperature rose to a respectable level -- it was 9 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill of only 5 degrees below zero -- we hurried back to the market to replenish our Red Bicyclette supply. We already knew that we liked the Chardonnay, so that was an easy selection. Temptingly, the Merlot shimmered at us as we placed the white wine into the shopping cart. "Why not," said my sister and soon, the red wine was in the shopping cart as well.

The Merlot was rich and quite dry, with strong berry flavors. It was also very good, but not quite as outstanding as the Chardonnay. I would happily select both of them again, though, and the pricing (under $10) was good for such excellent wines.

As I do, from time to time, I read the French newspaper Le Monde online the other day. (I'm trying to keep my French-language skills fresh and enjoy reading its in-depth accounts of European events.) Imagine my delight to find an article about Red Bicyclette wine!

Concerned with falling export numbers for their wines, French vintners have entered into an agreement with Gallo to market several varieties in the U.S. Introduced in 2004, Red Bicyclette has experienced good sales and is benefitting from Gallo's already-existing distribution channels in major supermarkets throughout the country. Significant growth in U.S. sales has been projected for 2005.

A quick check of my local Ralph's supermarket confirmed that Red Bicyclette is available there -- Eureka! After my initial disappointment at not finding it at my local BevMo store, I am now content to know that I can depend on my good, old, neighborhood supermarket to keep me well-stocked with reasonably-priced wine from the heart of French wine country. Global commerce -- you gotta love it!