About 11 years ago, Eduard and I visited Rome to celebrate him finishing his masters. He had never been to Rome and really wanted to visit the city. I on the other hand had visited Rome many times, but had a weak spot for the city, so I didn’t mind gifting a trip to my most favourite European city to him. And that’s how we ended up in Rome for the first time together. By now we know that it wasn’t going to be the last time either.
This first time we mostly visited the touristic highlights. That’s what you do on your first visit. We would stand up early and walk to a small little grocer at the corner of our street and get a crunchy ciabatta with fresh toppings. With a ciabatta in our hand we would walk to a random high sidewalk and just sit there, eat our piece of bread and watch all the people who were on their way to work. And then we would walk around the city, from one highlight to another. In the evenings we would go out again to search for some food, like many other tourists. Walking from one restaurant sign to another, searching for that one thing that you want to eat for dinner.
I don’t know how, when or where exactly we ended up in a dark Roman alley during one of our food searches. I believe it was an alley somewhere close to the Jewish quarter. But I’m not sure anymore. It was this alley where we had the best dinner of that trip. But not before we were told off by the Roman waiter. When he saw us sitting down at a table, he shouted in a pretty angry way: “NO PIZZA”. Eduard and I smiled to each other and said something like “OK”. The place was full with locals. Or Italians. I’m not sure if they were really locals of course. It made us feel like superior tourists, for having found this – NO PIZZA – place that was loved by locals. You know that feeling? We sat down outside in the dark alley at one of their cozy tables.
And then we snapped back to reality and did the touristic thing. We didn’t order the normal order and the large number of plates we were supposed to order. The waiter was obviously not amused. I only ordered a pasta dish and Eduard only ordered a huge piece of meat. Not exactly how things are done there. But it was what it was. I obviously didn’t eat meat at that time as well, and I think Eduard expected to get some carbohydrates and maybe a few greens with his meat. As soon as our plates were served, we found out that wasn’t the case. Eduards dinner was a 25x15cm piece of meat, nothing else. Luckily he enjoyed it much and got to taste some of my pasta. And that pasta is what I’m going to talk about in this blogpost.
I ordered a wine sauce gorgonzola gnocchi. Mouth-watering by description alone. When I got the plate (not at the same time as Eduard, the waiter clearly wanted to make a point) I vaguely saw a purple sauce draped over home-made gnocchi and something that could be later described as a bitter vegetable, but it was unrecognisable. Unrecognisable because it was smothered in sauce, but also because the alley was super dark. It was delicious. We basically licked off the plate together and left nothing behind. We disassembled all the ingredients afterwards, so that we could make the dish at home. When we were ready to order a dessert we asked what the vegetable was and we were told it was radicchio. We had no clue what that was.
Coming home we spend years and years figuring out what that vegetable was. We just started guessing. The first couple of times we thought that it might have been a wild carrot. Which it wasn’t, duh. Guests coming to our home suffered from test rounds. Later on we kept on failing by using red cabbage. It really missed the bitterness of the original vegetable.
Until one day. The boss I then had, told me what radicchio was. He was a great fan of the Italian kitchen and in a discussion I told him what my favourite dish was. When he said that radicchio was something like endive, but a red variety, I didn’t believe him. That’s how I am. I tried to find it anyway afterwards. That’s how I also am! And much to our surprise, it proved to be the right texture and taste!
At that time it was difficult to find radicchio in the regular grocery stores in the Netherlands. It’s still not a very common vegetable I think? I often replaced it by regular white/yellow endive. In France, where we live now, it turned out to be very common. I therefore have made the dish a lot of times already. We have developed a bit of our own recipe over the years. We often use a local cheese that stands in between a gorgonzola and a roquefort. And if we don’t have gnocchi at hand, we sometimes make it with Spätzle. I also add onions in the sauce and the grilled vegetables. I’m not sure if the original recipe used onions.
Another problem that I encountered along the way, is that I was not able to make a appetising picture of this dish. That’s why I haven’t shared the recipe before. It’s clearly a dish that you have to eat in a dark Roman alley. To numb one of your senses, so that you can give way to your other senses, the most important ones for tasting. But I can not keep this dish anymore in the dark for you. You will have to deal with a not too photogenic picture. I guess you will just have to try it out and judge the dish by its taste and not by its looks.
- two heads of radicchio
- a big piece of blue cheese (I used half of what you see below)
- 3 red wine glasses (less or more)
- 3 onions
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 bouillon cubes (if your cheese is very salty, use one cube or saltless cubes)
- 6tbsp oil (sunflower or olive)
- gnocchi or spätzle (or alternatively a normal pasta)
Chop two onions and let them simmer in some oil on the stove. Add the chopped garlic. Crumble the bouillon cubes and add them to the mix, keep stirring while you add the wine. Leave he mix to braise for at least 15 minutes on a low fire. The wine should slowly evaporate. You will see everything bubble up. When it reaches the right texture (pretty thick) you can take it off the fire. You can now bake the sliced radicchio in a pan with some oil. You do that together with the last onion that you have sliced up. Keep on stirring and leave the pan on a high fire.The radicchio will turn brown during this process. That’s why I kept a few raw pieces apart to decorate the dish.
In another pan you can heat up some oil again and add the gnocchi or spätzle. Heat them up on a high fire and keep stirring. Ideally both the veggies as the pasta will be ready at the same time. Keep them warm while you can finish the sauce. Now first blend the sauce that you made up till then with a hand mixer (like you would do with a soup). Now place it again in the pan and start melting pieces of cheese in the thick wine sauce on a low fire. Add the veggies to the wine-cheese sauce. Serve everything up on a plate. Enjoy!