- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Bitter tastes are often used in folklore to awaken sleepy taste buds and stimulate the appetite in spring.

Radicchio, an Italian bitter green, is a favorite addition to spring menus in our house. It was virtually unknown in the United States 20 years ago. Now it’s seen in many restaurants as part of mixed green salads.

Italian cooks don’t just use it raw. They serve it braised, grilled or wilted with a splash of vinegar and olive oil. There are two types of radicchio sold in most supermarkets: the long red spears of Treviso radicchio and the plump, heart-shaped head of Verona red. Both lend spring menus a deep scarlet color, welcome crunch and a bitter peppery flavor.

Spring wake-up salad

1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sugar or honey, or to taste

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups torn romaine lettuce

1 cup shredded radicchio

1 cup torn curly endive

1 large naval orange, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

Place onion in small bowl and cover with ice water. Cover and refrigerate 20 minutes. Drain well. In a salad bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, sugar or honey to taste, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Add romaine lettuce, radicchio, endive, orange and drained onion rings. Toss well. Makes 4 servings.

Fresh peas and radicchio

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup mirin wine, sake or apple juice

2 cups sugar-snap peas, trimmed

1 head Verona radicchio, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and mirin, sake or juice. Cook 1 minute, or until liquid reduces slightly. Add peas and radicchio and cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until peas are bright green and crisp-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Wilted radicchio

Wilted radicchio served with balsamic vinaigrette makes a vivid side dish for any grilled entree.

3 cups thinly sliced radicchio

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, combine radicchio and oil; toss well and cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until radicchio is wilted. Remove from heat; add vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Makes 4 servings.

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