Weeknight Cooking

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

December 18, 2013

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.  

Toro Bravo's Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette on Food52

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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]

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ted Morgan
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  • ellenu
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Ted M. May 14, 2019
This salad is amazing at Toro Bravo and Tasty & Sons. Can't wait to try it out at home. And, thanks to SteveB for the reminder about the ice water bath for the radicchio!

As far as language is concerned, I wonder if any of the folks who are judging the author for their use of - clutching my pearls - "the F word" have ever worked in a kitchen? I think the choice of profanity provided authenticity.

Also, recommend adding a tart, sliced green olive to the salad like they do in the restaurant. It's effing awesome.
Jeana B. February 4, 2015
I agree. I appreciate the information but do you really need to swear when speaking of salad dressing ? It lacks class.
TishNYC June 22, 2014
Excellent recipe, although it makes more dressing than I think is needed. I cut the onions into thin slices and added them to the radicchio; they visually almost disappear but the flavor is superb. I love single ingredient salads and this one is both pretty and a terrific alternative to mid-winter romaine fatigue.

As for the vulgar language, I was disappointed to see it as it really wasn't necessary and instead of adding to the piece, it took away. My view when coming upon such language is that it's lazy; a better writer would find a better way to make the point without risk of offense. And removing it isn't censorship -- it's fixing a mistake.
Sharon C. March 1, 2014
I'll make this salad tonight...Also did not appreciate the F word. It jumped off the screen me in a distractingly crude way. As you can see from all the commentary, it takes away from the content and just leaves one wondering "why?"
ellenu February 5, 2014
So very pretty. And delicious in an understated way. I've made this twice and love it.
ambradambra January 9, 2014
This recipe looks interesting and sneaky ... I hate raw fecking onion
Cristina S. January 1, 2014
I made this salad for a New Year's Eve dinner. It paired perfectly with a version of TasteFood's Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin + a very rich (and fancy-pants) mac & cheese. The salad was a snap to make, looked lovely, and tasted more than the sum of its parts. I saved the onions for grilled cheese sandwiches, which our guests also raved about. Thanks for the recipe!
stillpoint December 30, 2013
Hilarious that so many people are offended by the f word. I appreciate when people use words with discretion and respect, but that does not preclude words that may seem crass, and yet are aptly applied. All this hyperbole seems more fend disgust but you can only look inside, I cannot know for sure. I do know that I find "potty mouth" decisively more repulsive.
Zada F. December 30, 2013
Please DO edit your comments. Using vulgar language doesn't make the website "adult", just crass.
steveB December 23, 2013
I'm admittedly a bit thick skinned and the F word had absolutely no effect on me, so I'd advise anyone with that aversion NOT to visit www.thugkitchen.com because it will freak you out, tho I suppose it has a place getting Gen-Y to appreciate food..dunno. But regarding the recipe, you can also tear the Radicchio into pieces and soak in ice water for an hour to reduce the bitterness before proceeding. Try this one too.. www.epicurean.com/featured/radicchio-caesar-salad-recipe.html
Toni S. December 23, 2013
The originality of this recipe just went out the window with the throwing in of this cuss word. Do you really need to copy this latest poverty of language?
Dasha18 December 22, 2013
Cursing does not 'sum up the effect of the trick' but reroutes the direction of the recipe from enhancing simple ingredients towards enhancing abrasiveness or adding a hint of violence.
Anita D. December 21, 2013
Wow, really? You need the "f" word to communicate? Highschool.
Alan S. December 19, 2013
Please don't edit your language. It was perfectly used and was refreshing in context. I love a grownup website. Great recipe for Christmas Eve!
Vstarr71 December 19, 2013
One of our favorite restaurants! Can't wait to try the technique out on kale as we'll!
HamOnRye December 18, 2013
I was at Toro Bravo this past June - everything was delicious! I noticed that radicchio salads were on almost all the menus. This was one my favorites - i also enjoyed that salad at Tasty n Sons - can you get that recipe too? Thanks!
jane.coombs88 December 18, 2013
Another three ingredient salad: persimmons, lime juice and cilantro.
Brette W. December 18, 2013
Jenn R. December 18, 2013
Thank you, simple & excellent techniques!
Waverly December 18, 2013
I think this salad will be perfect for our Christmas meal. The radicchio makes it special....and completely different from my usual mixed greens. Thank you!
GARunner December 18, 2013
Liked the article about the salad, but did not think the use of the "f word" was appropriate. I am not a prude, but believe there is a time and place for everything. A food blog is not such an occasion.
sophie December 18, 2013
I was a little confused by this, too. I'm very rarely shocked by that word (I barely even notice it anymore as a woman in my 20s living in San Francisco) but this didn't seem like the place - mostly because Food52 has readers from all stripes of life and it may be disrespectful to some.
GARunner December 18, 2013
Thanks for your comment Sophie. I am at the opposite end of the age range. It is good to see, I am not being just an old crouch.
beth-ami December 18, 2013
I'm a potty mouth but even I know that the "f" word is not for public consumption. The salad however, looks so yummy!
Ariel S. December 18, 2013
oh please people...ease the 'F' up!
Kristen M. December 18, 2013
Thanks for your comments, and I'm sorry for catching some of you off guard. Since that quote from the recipe's headnote sums up the effect of the trick so well, censoring one word out seemed unnecessary and a bit disingenuous to the culture and tone of the cookbook. I hope this doesn't keep you from trying the recipe -- it's a great one.
Kaja1105 December 18, 2013
I work as an editor and would have made the same decision, Kristen!