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Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: The perfect holiday salad -- with 2 secret tricks for making all your salads better.  

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Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

When we think about making our everyday salads better or swankier or more holiday-appropriate, we tend to think of what we can add. Expensive cheeses and pomegranate arils. Duck. Composed circles of persimmon, mohawks made of pear.

We build and layer, until our salad resembles leafy greens about as much as it does a 70s variety hour.

But the holidays have enough of that noise. Here, instead, is a more perfect salad for the holidays: it's one ingredient, plus dressing and cheese.

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

It comes from Portland's Toro Bravo restaurant (and cookbook, by chef-owner John Gorham and writer Liz Crain). Austere as it may seem, it's got 2 secret tricks that will make you better at making salads, during the holidays and forever after.

 Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

Here's the first stroke of genius. Everyone thinks they like slivers of raw onion and spicy pricks of garlic; nobody's too happy about it 30 minutes later. Toro Bravo's answer: infuse the vinegar with chopped red onion for an hour, then quietly remove it.

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

The vinegar is left with a richer, more complex flavor, without the oppressive oniony kickback. It also makes any old vinegar taste like something nuanced, purposeful, and, yes, expensive. As Gorham and Crain say in their headnote, the effect is subtle but doesn't go unnoticed: "It's one of those layers of flavor that can really stump you. You think, Where the fuck is that coming from?" 

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

Don't toss out your soaked onion after you've had your way with it. Food52er hardlikearmour, who sent me this recipe, came up with this hack: "Bonus: if you add the honey to the vinegar when you steep the onions, you get some decent quick-pickled chopped onions to use as a condiment later." 

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52  Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

Once your vinegar has steeped, and your pickled onions have been tucked away for tomorrow's sandwiches, you'll whisk together a simple vinaigrette and pour it over a pile of radicchio, whose bitter curls will shine against a little sweet honey and oniony balsamic and sherry.

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52   Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

But dressing tends to bounce off of radicchio leaves and other slippery, waxy types. This is where the second genius trick comes in. You'll toss the dressed leaves again with a dusting of finely grated Manchego to help the coating stick. (Gorham and Crain point out that we dredge things in flour before battering and deep-frying them for the same reason.) 

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

At the restaurant, the salad is served with olive tapenade toasts, and -- if you want this to be your lunch or dinner -- go ahead. But not now, when there's potato gratin and porchetta right over there.

More: Still want the tapenade? OK, here's one: Josh Besh's Green Olive Tapenade

After this salad has served you through the holidays, as the foil to all your rich celebratory indiscretions, these are tricks you can keep at hand year-round. Try it with buttery new lettuces and lighter vinegars in spring, in summertime slaws and fall disbursements of kale. This can be your January cleanse, or your Valentine's splurge -- depending on how heavy-handed you are with the Manchego.

But resist the impulse to add noise. Everything you need is right here. You just need to know how to find it.

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette 

Adapted slightly from Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. (McSweeney's Insatiables, 2013)

Serves 4 to 8

2 to 3 heads radicchio (4 quarts, once chopped)
1/4 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup good-quality sherry vinegar
1 red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups Manchego, finely grated and divided
Salt and pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected] 

The Genius Recipes cookbook is here! (Well, almost.) The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites -- all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It'll be on shelves in April, but you can pre-order your copy now.

Tags: radicchio, salad, manchego, cheese, vinaigrette, holiday, how-to & diy, everyday cooking, special diets, Toro Bravo, Portland