The novel Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson1 is our current Cook the Books Club selection, hosted by yours truly. I chose the book from a list of food-rich ones because the title intrigued me. Fernet-Branca is a popular digestivo (digestive liqueur) in Italy, not a cooking ingredient. A splash of it can be added to an espresso to make a version of caffè corretto. A Fernet caldo (warm) is meant to help digestion.
While I don't know what Fernet-Branca tastes like, I remember well how much I liked its TV ads when I was a kid. The ads2 featured ever-shifting shapes made with modeling clay.
"An opera buffa with recipes" is how the NY Times review1 describes the novel, and I agree. The story and the events are somewhat outlandish and hilarious. The protagonists, Gerald and Marta, whose voice and perspective we hear in turn, keep the reader's attention and so does their turf war — fought in a corner of Tuscany, which for both of them is a foreign country.
Gerald, a British ghost writer, is also a creative cook. His recipes, like the book's plot, are — shall we say — unusual and often enriched with Fernet-Branca (to which Marta introduced him). The inspiration for my salad came not from Gerald's creations, but from a connection I made between bitter liqueur (amaro) and its digestive properties, and bitter greens, like beloved radicchio.
Last month, I spent a few days in Venice (Venezia) and ate radicchio every day, raw or cooked. All the varieties were available at the store where I usually shop for vegetables, which made me happy. In recent years, I have been able to obtain radicchio from some vendors at farmers' markets in California,3 and when that happens I always make a point of thanking the farmer for growing a beloved vegetable.
While the round, wine-red radicchio di Chioggia is the most common salad variety, I sometimes find the burgundy-flecked variegato di Castelfranco.
- 2 ounces / 56 grams radicchio (variegato di Castelfranco or radicchio di Chioggia)
- 2 ounces / 56 grams leaf lettuce
- 1 ounce / 28 grams carrot (1 small carrot), clean weight
- 1 ounce / 28 grams microgreens4 of choice (sunflower, kohlrabi, arugula)
- 1 ounce / 28 grams Fuyu persimmon (about 1/2 of a medium persimmon)
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- A splash of sherry vinegar + 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, possibly homemade OR 2 tablespoons vinaigrette
- 1/2 ounce sweet blue cheese, crumbled
Chop the clean radicchio and leaf lettuce and place into a bowl.
Scrub the carrot and scrape its surface to remove a thin layer of skin. Grate the carrot using the extra-coarse side of a hand grater. Add the grated carrot and the microgreens to the bowl.
Core and thinly slice the persimmon, then add to the bowl.
Sprinkle the salt on the salad then distribute the mayonnaise or vinaigrette on the surface. Toss gently and thoroughly.
Sprinkle the blue cheese, toss again, plate and serve.
1 The book on the publisher's website and a review of the book on the NY Times.
2 Fernet-Branca website, one ad and another one
3 From briciole's archive: Savoy cabbage and radicchio and radicchio and sweet corn
4 This page explains the differences between sprouts and microgreens.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the insalata di radicchio e lattughino con carota, micro verdure e cachi mela audio file [mp3].
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