Radicchio challenge

I drove home yesterday under a gorgeous Carolina blue sky (the kind of sky that makes you want a convertible), fresh CSA produce and lovable dog at my side, contemplating my new mission: convincing Cathy that radicchio is wonderful.

Being single, I don't need a huge box of veggies each week; as a single mother of a soon-to-be-2-year-old, my friend Cathy doesn't either. We agreed to split a half-share of Bluebird Meadows' vegetables this season, which arrive each Wednesday afternoon. So far, so good.

We split most things down the middle — as of yesterday we each have 6 beautiful carrots, for example, still dusted with soil, greens attached. If it makes more sense not to share an item, we negotiate. Cathy kept the small head of cauliflower, and I went home with a head of radicchio. We (she) reached a decision after I told Cathy to try a bite, as radicchio was unfamiliar.

I prepped her for the first taste. I explained that radicchio is on the bitter side, that I think of it as a perfect winter-y salad component mixed with other chicories, like Belgian endive. I told Cathy that radicchio is great, because it is. After that first taste she insisted that she keep the cauliflower and that I return home with the radicchio. Mission established.

Slightly astringent raw, radicchio's character changes when cooked. In the summer, I'm most likely to toss radicchio wedges with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil, then throw it on the grill. I drizzle the lightly charred leaves with balsamic vinegar and serve it alongside steak or pork, or (even better) add it to risotto. Last night I used it on pizza — grilled radicchio, ricotta, and pancetta pizza. I hope this recipe will persuade Cathy to keep the radicchio next time.

The topping combination is mine, but I must thank chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon for their terrific grilled pizza dough recipe. Germon is credited with inventing grilled pizza at their award-winning restaurant, Al Forno. I use cornmeal in my dough (Germon recommends johnnycake meal, which is widely available in his home state of Rhode Island), but he lists cornmeal as a substitute.

For those who don't consume pork: skip the ricotta. Throw a red bell pepper or two on the grill with the radicchio, and char. Let the blackened peppers steam in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, allow to cool, then peel. Cut the pepper into strips, season, and toss with balsamic vinegar. Proceed with the following recipe, the roasted red pepper and grated Parmesan in place of pancetta and ricotta (put the Parmesan on top of the other ingredients, rather than the bottom).

Grilled Pizza with Radicchio, Ricotta, and Pancetta
Serves 1-2

Grilled Pizza Dough
Adapted from Cucina Simpatica
Makes enough dough for four 12-inch pieces, about 24 ounces total

1 envelope (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
pinch sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Combine the yeast, warm water and sugar in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the solids. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then add the salt, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour and oil. Add the white flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to combine and create a stiff yet pliable dough (you may not need all 3 1/2 cups of flour). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes. Add only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface.

When the dough is smooth, put it in a bowl lightly greased with olive oil and turn it over in the bowl, coating the entire surface. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down, and knead again for a couple of minutes. Allow it to rise a second time, for about 40 minutes. After the second rise, it's ready to be used.

Punch down again and divide into 4 balls. Each will make a 12-inch pizza serving 4 as an appetizer or 1-2 as a main course. This dough freezes well for about 2 months.

Pizza Toppings
Enough for 2 pizzas

1 small head radicchio, cut into wedges
4 thin slices pancetta
a heaping 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Cut the radicchio into wedges. (I sliced the head in half, then cut each half into quarters). Keep the core intact, as it makes it easier to grill. Brush with olive oil, season, and grill until lightly charred, 4-5 minutes. Remove from the grill, cut the leaves from the core, and toss them with a balsamic vinegar to taste, about 2 teaspoons. Add salt and pepper as necessary.

Grill the pancetta slices for 2-3 minutes, until it begins to curl and crisp. Remove from the grill and break into pieces.

Place the ricotta cheese in a small bowl. Add the minced garlic and shallot (if you're sensitive to raw onion, you can cook the them in a little olive oil on low heat until soft, then add to the cheese). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir to combine.

When it's time to make pizza, bring your toppings to the grill on a tray. You will need a small ramekin containing a few spoonfuls of olive oil, a pastry brush, and tongs.

Germon insists that only a wood or charcoal grill will work for grilled pizza, as gas grills don't get hot enough for his liking. I've had success on a gas grill, and if it's what you have, please, grill pizza!  I prefer the flavor charcoal adds, but gas grills are less labor intensive.

Build a fire on one side of a kettle grill — you want one side as hot as possible, the other a bit cooler to avoid burning the crust while the toppings cook. If using a gas grill, set one side on high, the other on a medium-to-low setting.

Stretch or roll the dough into a 10 to 12-inch circle (irregular shapes are fine; mine was a warped rectangle). Place it on a cookie sheet and brush with olive oil. Flip the dough onto the hottest part of the grill and allow it to puff up for a few seconds (longer if using a gas grill). Then flip the crust over with tongs and move it to the cooler side.

Brush this side of the dough with olive oil. Spread the ricotta mixture thinly across the pizza's surface. Scatter the grilled, dressed radicchio leaves and pancetta pieces on top. Cook for about 8 minutes. Remove to a cutting board, sprinkle with chopped parsley and cut into wedges.


  1. I have been grilling romaine for salads, I do have to try Radicchio!! I have to say I love what I have seen of your blog...such wonderful descriptive tales...I am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog!!

  2. Chef Dennis,

    Your kind words made my day! Thank you. I'm going to grill a head of romaine in your honor. I hope you'll keep reading.

  3. If grilling it subdues the bitterness, then the next head of radicchio we get is mine! Of course, pancetta doesn't hurt either, but then again I think everything is better with some sort of pork product.

  4. Cathy,

    You're right, a little magic bacon animal makes everything better. Make the pizza!