Bitter is a recurrent theme here: grapefruit, endive, caramel… The other day in fact I took a jar of grapefruit juice, hot water and honey onto the metro: handwarmer and homemade cold cure. So I was overjoyed to receive the book ‘Bitter‘ for Christmas, with its elegant grey cardoon leaves on the cover. (I also love grey: poppy seeds, black sesame desserts…) Jennifer McLagan peppers her cookbook with poetry, quotations and thoughtful essays on taste and flavour. I especially liked her discussion on the word itself, bitter, one that doesn’t have enough synonyms when it comes to writing about food. The Japanese word, shibui,she writes, means a kind of tangy bitterness. A quick thesaurus search in English gives ‘harsh, sour, acid, astringent, tart’ in that order, none particularly appetising except perhaps the last. (Yesterday I had to teach French flatmate that it was acceptable ‘to get tarted up’ but not to be a tart. In French the quiche gets the dubious honour of comestible-used-as-an-insult. Etre une quiche means to be an idiot.)
I have bookmarked the Seville orange and whiskey marmalade and the homemade tonic water; I approved of the grapefruit and Campari sorbet (one of my favourite cocktails). I was intrigued by the beer jelly, made in ice-cube trays to serve a piece or two with rich, fatty starters like smoked pepper mackerel. And straightaway, I bought some radicchio for her savoury tart with prosciutto, fontina and a hint of ginger. It should have had lard in the pie-crust but in typical French fashion the butchers at the market first asked about our intentions, and then refused to sell it to us since it was the wrong kind for pastry. And no, we couldn’t try it anyway. A substitute of butter and a little duck fat, always on hand in the south of France, was more than acceptable. The pie was delicious straight out of the oven, a complex bitter taste, the wilted radicchio with melted cheese and crisp pastry. (Served with a salad of Belgian endives, of course.) And it was even better the next day as a snack by the fire, with a glass of Campari and apple juice.
Jennifer McLagan’s Radicchio Pie
serves 4 as a light lunch with salad
250g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
125g cold butter or leaf lard
75ml cold water
75g fatty prosciutto or pancetta
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp salt
a few generous grinds pepper
125g Fontina or mozzarella cheese, grated
2 tbs fine breadcrumbs
Dice the cold fat (butter or lard) and rub it into the flour, baking powder and salt until the flakes of butter are no bigger than peas. (You can do this step in the food processor.) Stir in the cold water and bring the pastry together into a ball with your hands. Wrap in clingfilm, flatten into a square and chill, in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or in the freezer for 10.
Roughly chop the prosciutto or pancetta and cook in a large frying pan for 2 minutes while you chop the radicchio and leek. Add them to the pan and cook on high heat for 3-5 minutes to wilt the vegetables. Stir in the grated ginger, salt, pepper and balsamic and tip out onto a plate or tray to cool.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Roll the pastry out into a large rectangle, approx 30x40cm. Slice in half, but so that one rectangle is slightly wider than the other (approx 19 and 21cm). Place smaller rectangle on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and brush some egg around the pastry in a 2cm border. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the pastry apart from the egg.
Gently squeeze any extra liquid out of the cooled radicchio. Stir in the grated cheese. Spread the radicchio over the breadcrumbs, then carefully roll the second rectangle of pastry over the top. Press down around the edges with your fingertips, then use a fork to mark the border. If you have any scraps of pastry, cut out some leaves or designs to go on top. Egg wash all over and prick the top a few times with a sharp knife to let out any steam.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until nice and golden, crisp and shiny. Serve warm – also great reheated the next day.