Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The tale of 'Imbianchimento' and the curious Spider Treviso

This weekend involved a trip to Borough with a good friend, where along with bumping into the brilliant chef Peter Gordon (one of my chef heros), I came across this rather magnificent specimen, the Spider Treviso. Of Italian origin, it is of the Radicchio family with it's winey red, bitter leaves.
First cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and then Italian monks in the 1400s who had to vary their sparse vegetarian diets, this curious plant has gone through quite a transformation over the years. The Belgian agronomist Francesco Van den Borre, already famous for applying techniques to endive to whiten the leaves, set to work on these radicchio that grew in the Treviso region.
The Imbianchimento process involves a lot of work, with the plants harvested in the autumn, trimmed, and packed into wire baskets. These are then placed in darkened sheds for a few days, with their roots bathed in circulating springwater. This bathing process and light deprivation makes the leaves take on the deep purple pigment, which when deeper in colour means the more bitter the taste, which makes these leaves so prized as a leaf by gourmets around the world.
With my history lesson in mind, I figured these would make the most delicious winter salad with one of my other favourite ingredients, pear.
This makes a fabulous starter or an end to a meal where a cheese course would take precedence. The beautiful leaves are made glossy with walnut oil, and combined with the pear (that I poached in a mulled wine - orange peel, caraway seeds, cloves, cinnamon and cardomon until soft and juicy), which once mulled adds additional purple to the dish. Over this crumble some delicious Scottish blue cheese (mine was from Neal's Yard Diary) and roughly chopped walnuts. This was finished with a quick vinagrette of 3 parts walnut oil to 1 part of the cooled mulled wine, salt, pepper and a final grating of orange zest to lift all of the flavours.


vida said...

Peter Gordon is a Kiwi (New Zealander) I believe... seems you really love the Aussies Steven, I think you should plan a trip out here!!! Vida x

Steven said...

Yeah he is.. I do think that you Australisians have an edge when it comes to food, as you know I'm a big fan of Skye's and Peter's but also Liam Tomlin, Damien Pignolet and Neil Perry.... I will certainly be coming to Australia next year - I'm planning to come for three months to travel and cook, so I might get to see you then! X

vida said...

Yippee!!!!! It would be wonderful to meet you and I would be honoured to show you around. I have a few ideas up my sleeves already, so if you have time we can work on it. Do you know people here already? Will you visit more than one state? Lots of questions, sorry, but I am very excited, do you think you could talk Hannah into joining you??? That would be great fun!! Vida x

Anthony said...

I love Borough and visit every weekend (it helps I leave just around the corner). It's great to have somewhere in London where you can get a wide variety of fresh produce without having to run around to all the different 'speciality/ethnic areas' to get.

Steven said...

You're a lucky man if you do. I love Bermondsey, and if I didn't love Battersea so much I'd move there in a shot.. really liking your blog, I must link you up to mine, Steven.