Adventures in the Produce Department: Regal Radicchio
Radicchio is a leaf chicory sometimes known as Italian chicory. It is grown as a leaf vegetable and it has a bitter and spicy taste that is suppose to mellow when it is grilled or roasted. It is a favorite winter-season salad vegetable in Southern Europe and in Italy, raw leaves are eaten in salads while radicchio risotta and pasta are popular winter recipes in the Northern Italian region.
Radiccho dates back to the Roman Empire. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher, claimed radicchio was useful as a blood purifier and an aid for insomniacs in 'Naturalis Historia'. Pliny was definitely onto something because when Italian scientists recently tested radicchio phenol content it scored high! Some of the known health benefits of radicchio are:
the bitter principle in radicchio is lactucopicrin which is a potent antimalaral agent and has a sedative and analgesic effect;
due to it's high fiber content, radicchio aids in digestion, colon cleansing and weight management;
it is high in antioxidants that boost overall health, wellness and energy;
promotes bile production which in turn improves digestion and reduces cholesterol;
radicchio is an excellent source of Vitamin K which has an important role in bone health, helps limit neural damage in the brain and has been established as a treatment for patients suffering from Alzheimer's Disease;
it is an excellent source of phenolic flavonoid antioxidants such as zeaxanthin and lutein which are known to offer protection from age related macular degeneration;
radicchio naturalizes free radicals in humans, helps fight cell damange and fights cell damage to DNA that may lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer;
contains a substance called 'inulin' that naturally helps to regulate blood sugar levels
polyphenols found in radicchio help neutralize free radicals and give mental sharpness, keen eyesight and lower incidence of stomach flu
Armed with all that new found knowledge, I decided to roast my radicchio and given it's somewhat bitter taste, I figured I'd grill my chicken breasts with some kind of a sweet glaze. Opening my refrigerator, I stood there thinking, 'Ok...what do I know about radicchio? Bitter, spicy, mellows with roasting or grilling, often in salads, popular in Italian cuisine'. I took out a couple of tomatoes, some feta cheese, mushrooms, red onion, white onion, (I had a 1/2 of both in a baggie on the refrigerator door), red pepper, grainy mustard, maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. I decided I was going to drizzle the radicchio with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, chunk up the red pepper, onions and mushrooms and give them a toss with the same two ingredients, and quarter the tomatoes and drizzle them in the same manner. To offset the taste of the bitter radicchio and tangy balsamic, I decided to grill my chicken breasts in my stove top grill pan, and brush them with a glaze made from maple syrup and grainy mustard. (I probably would have gone with honey and grainy mustard...if I had honey....but I didn't so maple syrup was going to have to do!).
I figured the radicchio and other vegetables were going to take about 15 minutes to roast in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven, so I prepped them first. I removed the loose dry leaves from the radiocchio as I would with a cabbage then cut it in half and cut each half into thirds, leaving the stock in place to hold the leaves together. I cut the red pepper and onions into 2 inch pieces, quartered the mushrooms and placed them in a mixing bowl. I then cut the tomato into quarters and removed the seeds. In a measuring cup, I whisked together 4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar with 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and seasoned it with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I placed the radicchio wedges, cut side down on a large baking sheet at one end and brushed them on both sides with the balsamic mixture. I then tossed the red peppers, onions and mushrooms with about 2 Tbsp of the baslamic/oil and poured them onto the baking sheet in the middle. At the other end I placed the tomato wedges and drizzled them with some of the balsamic/oil mixture. At the last minute I decided to sprinkle the works with a little dry oregano. I placecd the baking sheet in th oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, I flipped the radicchio over and returned the pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. When they were done, I transferred the roasted radicchio, vegetables and tomato onto a serving platter, spinrkled on some chopped green onions (chives would have been my first choice but guess what? I didn't have any!), and then I crumbled some feta cheese over everything.
While the vegetables were roasting in the oven, I heated my stove top grill pan over medium high heat. When it was nice and hot, I gave it a brush with some olive oil and then placed my chicken breasts, seasoned with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of dry oregano onto the grill pan. I quickly whisked together 2 Tbsp of maple syrup with 1 Tbsp of grainy mustard. After the chicken had been cooking for about 2-3 minutes, I flipped them to cook for another few minutes on the other side. I brushed the grilled side with some of the maple syrup/grainy mustard glaze and then flipped the chicken breasts again, brushing the other side with the glaze too. At that point the timer went off for my vegetables, so I transferred the chicken breasts to a baking dish, removed the vegetables and while I was plating them, I let the chicken cook in the residual heat in the oven for a few minutes just to make sure that they were cooked through.
When the time came to serve, I looked at the grilled chicken and the roasted vegetables and thought, 'This s almost like a cooked salad'. What the heck? Why not?', and with that I told my husband and daughter that we were having 'Deconstructed Grilled Chicken Salad' for dinner, (feeling right pleased with myself for sounding so cheffy and hip!).
I placed the Maple Mustard Grilled Chicken Breasts on a bed of mixed salad greens, added the Roasted Balsamic Radicchio next, then the roasted veggies, and lastly the roasted tomato. I drizzled the radicchio, veggies and tomato with the remaining balsamic/olive oil mixture and served.
The chicken was moist and tender with a wonderful flavour combination of smokiness from the char and sweetness from the maple syrup with just the right hit of spicy from the grainy mustard. The bitterness of the radicchio was indeed mellowed from the roasting and topped with the balsamic, crumbled feta and freshly chopped green onions made it a complete tasty morsel. The remaining roasted vegetables brought the whole plate together with wonderful balance of sweet, smoky and savory.
With it's maroon and cream color, regal radicchio reigns supreme among traditional Italian vegetables. It's no wonder that it is beloved by chefs and gourmands alike even though this often misunderstood red chicory endures a love or hate relationship among those that try it because of it's bitter taste. When you come right down to it, that's the short and 'bitter' sweet of it!.
I estimate the cost of this meal to be under $4 per serving. From start to finish, excluding the time spent researching and conversing with myself, this whole meal was prepped, cooked and plated in under 30 minutes. Given that over half of the ingredients were roasted vegetables and that I had grilled the boneless skinless chicken breasts, aside from the maple syrup, this meal was low in saturated fat with moderate amounts of healthy omega 6 and omega 3 fats, low in sodium and high in fibre.