There are salads for a crowd, and salads that kids adore. There are colorful slaws, and playful mescluns, salads crunchy and light. But then there are the distinctly grown-up salads, with heightened and complicated flavors. This is one of those. It has just five ingredients, but together they make a stunningly unusual composition of bitter, sweet, and salty-savory. Ready? This is fall salad, all dressed up and glamorous.
I can take zero credit for this recipe. I ate a salad very much like this last week at Till Dynamic Fare, a biodynamically-focused restaurant here in Columbus. The owner and chef has a way with vegetables and a flair for unusual combinations that somehow work out just right. We were trying to decide on a salad, and when we mentioned this one — an odd combo of radicchio and olives — the server's eyelids fluttered and she began breathing hard. We took the hint.
When the salad appeared, it was studded with green olives, smashed so that their edges echoed the ruffled curl of the radicchio. The leaves were draped in a sweet balsamic dressing that both heightened and balanced the radicchio's bitterness. Manchego cheese and the meaty, mild olives added savor. It was the most glamorous grown-up salad I've ever eaten, and my husband and I tussled over the final bites.
And yet the salad itself is so simple — just a handful of ingredients. Here it is, for your own adult enjoyment. The olives should be Castelvetrano olives, which are lighter and not so pungent. Use the sweetest, richest balsamic you can for the dressing, as it should be rather sweet. If you don't have great balsamic, no worries — add a drizzle of honey to boost the sweetness. On the cheese: Any savory hard white cheese should work well. The restaurant used Manchego; I've made this with Parmesan.
1 small head red radicchio
1 cup Castelvetrano olives, brine reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey, optional
About 2 ounces Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
Core the radicchio and discard any browned outer leaves. Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and put them in a large bowl.
Pit the olives and cut each one in half lengthwise. Smash each lightly with the flat of a knife, to flatten. Toss the olives with the radicchio, massaging the leaves lightly with your hands.
Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and 1 tablespoon olive brine. Taste for sweetness, and add a drizzle or more of honey if desired. Toss the dressing with the radicchio.
Use a vegetable peeler to create large, thick flakes of cheese and toss with the salad, along with salt and pepper to taste. Serve within an hour, garnished with additional cheese if desired.