If I lived and ate alone, my nightly dinner would alternate between peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Barbara's Puffins, and scrambled eggs. I'm serious! I'm serious.
It's only when I cook for someone else—or with a someone else (real or imaginary: Hello, dear reader!) in mind—that my choices become a bit more intentional. Because I'd never subject another person to the soggy cereal that makes my heart positively trill.
And it's that people-pleasing cooking that explains the evolution of this radicchio salad.
When our Books Editor Ali Slagle shared the original Gourmet recipe with me, I made a stripped-down version that very night, forgoing the ricotta cheese and the basil (fresh greens, who needs 'em?!) and relishing in a bowl of the slumped, bitter leaves, which—after a char in the oven and a bath in a balsamic-lemon-garlic mixture—are slurpably soft.
But then, face in bowl, I wondered, "How does Ali, a Californian whose desert island food is a lemon..." (in comparison, my desert island food is a box of frosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts) "...and who actually craves raw vegetables, eat this?"
For one, she'd make it greener. And so I furiously tore herbs—mint, dill, and parsley!—over top. She'd add more texture: And so appeared toasted walnuts, for crunch and a different sort of bitterness. She'd reintroduce the ricotta cheese, definitely, but she'd wake it up with lemon zest (zing!) and plenty of salt and pepper.
To suit my own sweet tooth, I snuck in pitted dates, which caramelized alongside the radicchio, their burnished skins leading to even squishier insides. And then, for my final sprint, I refrained from dumping the salad into a bowl and instead draped—draped!—it across a platter.
The salad I imagined Ali would eat was more interesting—bitter, sweet, melty, crisp—and more beautiful than anything I would have ever made solely for myself.
When Ali saw it in the test kitchen, she took one look and said, "I never would have added any of this stuff."
Then we both ate it, happily. The end!
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 5 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon zest from 1/2 lemon, divided
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
- 1 teaspoon salt and pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 pound radicchio, cored and coarsely chopped
- 8 large, squishy dates, pitted and quartered
- 3/4 pound fresh ricotta
- 1/2 cup mint, dill, and parsley, for garnish
- 1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts, for garnish
The moral of this story, in case you missed it, is that the radicchio, roasted and marinated, is extremely good without any of the other components—the herbs, the cheese, the dates—that push it over the top. If you're cooking for yourself, take the bare bones route. You could mix the marinated radicchio with a cooked grain, like farro, and some hard cheese for an instant take-to-work salad, or you could lay a fried egg over top for a quick dinner.
Or, if you want to make a dinner party show-stopper—or otherwise people-please—add all the goodies. Then serve with crusty bread and accept their praise.
Who inspires you to cook food that's better than what you'd make for yourself? Tell us in the comments below.