One of the things I love best about any kind of travelling is trying new foods. Or finding myself in a place where something is really celebrated, and tasting it at its best.
The hardest part of finding really beautiful, fresh produce is that I almost always want to buy it and cook with it at home. Which is frustratingly difficult when the place you’re staying doesn’t have (or barely has) a kitchen. Even if you’re staying in an apartment, there are usually limits on what’s available, and you don’t want to be stocking a whole pantry for the sake of trying one thing.
On this trip, the thing that turned me on to produce was a small general store just down the road from the place we’re staying, recommended to us by our host.
Among the limited supply of incredibly fresh produce they had was the most beautiful box of artichokes I’ve ever seen. They looked so perfect, almost burnished.
Then I noticed something I assumed was a radicchio, but not quite like I’d seen before. And then I found another which I never would have recognised as part of the same family. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it at the markets in Melbourne, but maybe I just thought it was a kind of lettuce and ignored it.
And so now I know: winter is radicchio season, and it’s a vegetable with a lot of local love. I’ve seen it a lot in the restaurants here where it is justly celebrated for that lovely slightly bitter flavour (though much less so when roasted).
The yellow-and-red variegated variety (the picture at the top of this post) is radicchio di Castelfranco, which is named after a historic town not far away from where we are staying.
There is also the spectacular radicchio di Tardivo, which is a local variant and really popular in restaurant dishes. Radicchio di Chioggia is a small round version. The elongated version (shaped like endive) that we see mostly in Melbourne is the di Treviso version.
I had to take at least one home, and picked a head of the very pretty Castelfranco. It’s only a little bitter, and has that slightly leathery/chewy texture they all have. I followed instructions and dressed it with a little oil and quite a bit of balsamic, and then sprinkled a local hard cheese over it.
The suggestion I was originally given was to use parmesan, but on today’s travels to the town of Asiago in the Dolomites we’d picked up some of the local cheese – an asiago, the aged variety, which is hard and crumbly.
The combination was delicious. We also had some fine slices of the local speck picked up at the same place, and had that as well for our entree, just for fun. It made for a delicious combination.