I like to think that I have a good knowledge of Italian cookery but, every once in a while, I stumble on a dish that I’ve never heard of, let alone tried. So it was with a recent blog post from fellow blogger Judy Witts, whose blog Over a Tuscan Stove is one of my favorites. When I saw her recipe for radicchio ‘roses’ stuffed with sausage, taken from a cookbook by a local winemaker, I knew I had to try it. And when I did try it, I knew I had to share it with my readers. Besides the first step—opening up the radicchio into a ‘rose’ so it can hold its stuffing—the recipe could hardly be simpler. And the flavor combination—the sweet and savory sausage playing off the slight bitter vegetable—is truly spectacular. It may not be the prettiest dish I’ve seen, but it is one of the tastiest I’ve tried in quite a while.
For every 2 persons:
- 1 large radicchio di Chioggia (about 300g/10oz)
- 2 large mild Italian sausages (about 150g/5oz each) or an equivalent amount of loose sausage meat
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Red wine for deglazing (optional)
Trim off the off centimeter or so of the radicchio to expose the leaves, then working very gingerly starting from the center, nudge the leaves apart so they begin to spread apart. Continue until the leaves have opened up quite a bit into the semblance of the petals of a burgundy-colored rose. (Don’t rush the operation or you may rip the delicate leaves.)
Squeeze the sausage meat of its casings and, as you go, slip bits here and there among the leaves, pushing the meat down well into the radicchio so it stays in place. Continue until all of the leaves have at least a bit of sausage and the sausage has been used up. Lay the resulting ‘rose’ on a cookie sheet or baking pan. You should wind up with something like this:
Drizzle the radicchio ‘rose’ with olive oil and season well. Place it in a moderate oven (180C/350F) for about 30-40 minutes, until the sausage is cooked through and has caramelized, and the tips of the leaves have crisped and nicely browned as well. (If you have a convection function, use it.)
Serve on a platter, if you like garnished with some raw leaves for color. If you like, you can deglaze the pan with red wine and drizzle the resulting sughetto over everything.
There are two main varieties of radicchio. The kind from Chioggia, round with tightly packed leaves a bit like a cabbage, is the kind you want for this dish. (The other kind, from Treviso, is long and slender with loose, delicate leaves. It is wonderful in salads—superior, to my mind, than the Chioggia variety, but not very suitable for stuffing. It is also much harder to find Stateside in any event.)
You can use any sausage you like. The butcher’s counter at my local store had some ‘mild Italian’ sausage, made in-store, seasoned with a bit of garlic and little else; it combined perfectly with the slightly bitter flavor of the radicchio. If your sausage does not have garlic in it already, you can add a bit of minced garlic, or sautéed onion if you prefer. (Judy tells us that the original recipe, in fact, calls for a bit of sautéed onion.)
Both radicchio and sausages vary tremendously in size, so you’ll need to use your good judgment depending on what you find at the market. The radicchio I found this morning was quite large and, when stuffed, provided an ample secondo for two persons. If you find a small one, you may find it only provides for a single portion. Of course, it all depends on how hungry you are and whether you are eating Italian style, with a primo before and some fruit or dessert afterwards. And, of course, you can add more or less sausage as you prefer. I loaded up my radicchio ‘rose’ until it fairly groaned with sausage, but you can add much less for a lighter dish. A 1:1 ratio of vegetable to sausage by weight works well.