06 October 2012

Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette

This recipe is a blatant attempt to replicate one I had at Toro Bravo in Portland, Oregon.  This fabulous tapas restaurant is the funnest dining experience I can ever remember.  (Yes, funnest...there is simply no better word.)  A troupe of reunited college ladies flounced into this restaurant and began to order small dishes right and left to share.  None of us knew what to expect with this one, but we were all blown away.  I mean, manchego cheese vinaigrette?!  Holy cow.  Never have I had a cheese vinaigrette before.  Gorgeous to look at and even better to eat, I knew I would have to recreate this at home for the hubs.

My first attempt was a bit rough.  Having never played around with radicchio, I was not prepared for its intense flavor.  Predominant bitter flavor permeated through the fabulous dressing and overwhelmed the dish entirely.  But I wasn't about to throw this baby out with the bath water.  I did a bit of homework and found that its strong flavor mellows when cooked or grilled.  And this tidbit totally transformed the dish.  The slightly charred edges relaxed the flavor and created a lovely balanced flavor.  And the grilled flavor was absolutely fabulous with the manchego cheese.

Let me now explain the glories of this dressing.  This lovely white dressing is my new household favorite.  It's your basic vinaigrette with two little twists.  The first is the use of champagne vinegar.  Made from the same grapes as champagne, it has a similar fruity taste which adds a nice brightness to the dish overall.  But the obvious star here is the manchego cheese.  And not just any manchego....viejo manchego.  This is the old man of the family, aged the longest.  As it ages, the flavor intensifies, becoming more deep and peppery.  It is firmer, easier to grate and therefore perfect for this dressing.  The dressing also keeps splendidly.  Just bring to room temp, mix well and throw onto any salad for a delightful nutty, savory and slightly fruity dressing.  

The unexpected surprise of the dish at Toro Bravo were the two tapenade toasts served on the top.  The briny olive flavor was delicious with this dish.  So obviously, I had to overcome my fear of olives and make a tapenade.  Fear of olives.  Ridiculous, but true.  Though we love its oil, the hubs and I are not natural lovers of these little brined fruits.  We've been slowly but surely buying jars and eating one a day for a few weeks now, attempting to train ourselves otherwise.  It's been going well, but this tapenade was the biggest step towards a positive, even anticipatory, view of olives that we've had yet.

Super easy to make, just add your favorite green olives with a few other ingredients to make a fabulous little spread.  Salty, savory and juicy, this is one way I look forward to eating olives.  

Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette (serves 3-4)

Manchego Vinaigrette
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar would be great, too)
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 c finely grated manchego (viejo if you can find it)

Green Olive Tapenade 

  • 1/2 c green olives (whatever you like)
  • 1 tbs capers
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic

Radicchio Salad
  • 1 head radicchio
  • 1 tsp agave nectar
  • manchego vinaigrette, to coat
  • 1/3 c manchego cheese
  • 4 slices wheat bread or baguette
  • green olive tapenade
To make the vinaigrette, combine the olive oil, vinegar and white pepper in a medium bowl and whisk together until completely emulsified.  Add 1/2 cup of grated manchego and whisk together.  Set aside.

Next, make the tapenade.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until all big chunks are gone.  Set aside.

Place a grill pan on medium high heat.  Cut your radicchio into quarters and light brush the cut sides with olive oil.  When hot, place the radicchio cut side down on the pan.  Grill for 4 minutes or so, until you have well defined grill marks and light charring, but not so much that its burnt.  Roll the wedges over so the other cut side is directly is on the bottom and grill for another 4 minutes or so.  Remove to a cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, half each section and chop into long strips.  Transfer to a large bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of agave nectar.  Add the manchego vinagrette until dressed to your preference (we used a little less than half of the entire recipe).  Toss together until well coated.  Top with additional manchego cheese.

Toast your bread and top with the olive tapenade.  Serve on top of the radicchio salad.

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