Grilled Radicchio and Goat’s Cheese Salad with Balsamic Dressing

This convention of killer ingredients is precisely the sort of thing that makes me groan with despair when asked by the victim of a fearless caterer to find a wine match. So I was intrigued by the following pairing, suggested by a French magazine. Bitter radicchio, gamey goat's cheese and balsamic vinegar, served with a Touraine Blanc? What were they thinking?! Creatively, it turns out. This is a winner!

A 'Touraine Blanc' could be a sauvignon or a chenin blanc and I can report that both work well, with the slightly richer chenin having the edge. What they have in common, of course, is cracking acidity. A Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé and a slightly richer Saumur Blanc or Vouvray would score highly too. This is my version of the salad.

Grilled Radicchio and Goat’s Cheese Salad with Balsamic Dressing

First capture your radicchio, also known as Italian chicory, or trevise. These tightly curled red and white heads range in size from unfeasibly tiny to quite large, so pick one somewhere in the middle that looks likely to yield four manageable wedges. Equally good is home-grown red chicory, pointier in shape and a bit tamer on the palate, and you'll need two of these slimmer heads. In either case, trim off any stray leaves and quarter through the root, so that the wedges stay neatly in place. Heat the grill, and line the pan with aluminium foil.

Next, that dressing: crush a clove of garlic in a pestle and mortar with a small pinch of whole salt crystals. Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir in 4 dessertspoons of your best balsamic vinegar - not the very treacly kind, but a properly aged one. Whisk in the same quantity of extra-virgin olive oil. Brush the radicchio quarters liberally with some of the dressing, and lay them in the grill pan, along with four thick slices of country bread or baguette. Slide under the grill about halfway down from the element, and be vigilant. Once the bread slices are golden on one side, remove them with a pair of tongs, leaving the radicchio to continue cooking.

Spread the untoasted side with a thick layer of soft goat's cheese. Replace in the grill pan and continue to monitor until the cheese is hot and bubbling and the radicchio soft and slightly scorched - about 5 more minutes.

Meanwhile, toast some walnut pieces in a dry pan and fry a handful of smoked lardons, if you fancy them, in a little oil until crisp. Drain the latter on kitchen paper while you assemble the salad. Have four small plates ready. Start with the cheese toasts, top with a wedge of radicchio and scatter over the lardons. Drizzle the remaining dressing discreetly around the plate. Finish with the walnut pieces and little clumps of mâche or lamb's tongue lettuce.

Janet Wynne Evans

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