Comfort zone cooking

raddicio_206.jpgI am as guilty as the next of cooking in my comfort zone. The same things crop up every few days in my house. Among them are the easy supper standbys of roast chicken with roasted roots, cous-cous salad or a warming bowl of pasta with tomatoes and crème fraiche. Other staples include sausages with a mustard and herb-flecked mash and baked potato, dotted with butter, strong cheddar and served with a large spoonful of home-made piccalilli.

There’s nothing wrong with cooking these kind of things – far from it. To get them right, timed correctly and on the table at the same time, is an art form in itself. They do, however, leave something to be desired in terms of variety.

Often missing are simple things I’ve eaten once or twice but never contemplated incorporating at home. Take radicchio or leaf chicory, for example. I usually pick it up in bags of ‘Italian’ salad from the supermarket. I’d read about griddling it, though, and thought it sounded fun.

My first thoughts were of sliced radicchio with pink griddled sirloin and Roquefort – or some other strong blue cheese – maybe sprinkled with something nutty. Then when I got to the shop I spotted a box of knobbly blood oranges, and a new plan was hatched.

This is easy and ready in a flash. It also looks beautiful. The blood oranges add such a splash of colour to the deep purple of the radicchio. And while radicchio can be very bitter, it mellows with cooking and it’s flavour is set off by the sweetness of the vinegar.

Griddled chicken and radicchio salad with blood oranges and balsamic syrup

Ingredients (Serves 4 as a light lunch)

  • 1 unwaxed blood orange
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 radicchio or treviso (the spider variety of radicchio, which look incredible and are worth hunting down)
  • 150ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • A handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
  • A handful of sultanas or raisins

Put the oven on to 100 degrees C. Pre-heat a griddle on the hob until it starts to smoke. Cut each chicken breast into eight or ten pieces depending on size of breasts. Pop them in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Swish round until they are coated. Put a few at a time on the griddle and cook for two or three minutes on each side, or until cooked through. When cooked, sit them on a plate in the oven to keep warm.

Zest the orange into a saucepan and add vinegar and sultanas. Reduce over a medium heat until you are left with a syrup. It will thicken slightly as it cools. Add honey, swirl around and remove from the heat.

Cut the top and bottom off the orange and sit it flat on the chopping board. Using a sharp, flexible knife cut down and around the orange, removing the skin, following it’s natural curve. You should be left with a completely skin and pith free orange. Cut out the orange segments from between the membranes and lift each piece out carefully. Set aside in a bowl, squeezing any juice from the remnants of orange into the bowl.

Cut the radicchio into halves or quarters depending on size. Pour a little oil over it and griddle for a few minutes on each side until dark char marks show.

Arrange the chicken, radicchio and orange on the plate. Pour any juice left in the orange bowl into the balsamic syrup – this will loosen it if it’s become too thick and add a fresh, zesty edge. Drizzle this over the top, spooning over the sultanas, and then add walnuts onto the plate. Serve immediately.

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