Look, let’s be honest, I make a really good radicchio salad. That may not mean much to most people because radicchio isn’t one of those vegetables that gets anyone excited. It’s bitter. It’s red. It’s red and bitter. What’s the big deal? Well: I like to serve it before a big, heavy dinner to wake up the palate–sort of like a vegetable Negroni. Only my vegetable Negroni has anchovies and garlic in it. So, actually, let’s forget that Negroni bit and focus on how I make it.
Last week something unprecedented happened. I was having a new friend over for dinner and, after shopping at 3 o’clock and starting to cook at 4 o’clock, I found myself at 8 o’clock holding my cellphone and a text message from this new friend saying that he had a work emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was left with a giant bowl of couscous, a whole roasted chicken, vanilla bean pudding (which I’ll blog about later this week) and, lucky for me, two undressed heads of radicchio that I’d sliced and refrigerated in anticipation of making a salad. Now that it was just Craig and me, we wouldn’t need the salad and that undressed radicchio would survive the night in the fridge and become next day’s lunch. As it turned out that lunch–a purple salad that I concocted with leftover chicken, red onion, raisins and toasted walnuts–was almost better than the dinner.
We all get hammered over the head so often about fresh ingredients and using the best ingredients (“Use a really good olive oil,” says The Barefoot Contessa; “I make my own toothpaste,” says Alice Waters) that sometimes it’s easy to dismiss it all as snobby nonsense. Then you go to Franny’s, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite restaurants (and certainly the best restaurant near our apartment; it’s only two blocks away!) and order their radicchio salad and when it arrives and you take the first bite you’re struck speechless. What’s so awe-inspiring about it? Is it the execution? Is it the conception? No, you realize, it’s the ingredients.