I like working with chicories, especially in the fall, and I’m forever trying to convince people they’re not unpalatably bitter. If you soak radicchio (or escarole, for that matter) in ice water for an hour before using, it removes some of the bitterness. Just be sure to dry the leaves well or the dressing won’t stick.
Sharply flavored greens need the right dressing to offset their natural bite: either something creamy or something bright and just slightly sweet. This dressing goes for the latter. Honey is, of course, sweet, but caramelizing it brings out rich, deep undertones, and the pepper helps balance out the sweetness. All vinaigrettes should be balanced, but this one has a particularly lovely sweet-and-sour effect that nicely amplifies the other flavors in the dish.
Buy your prosciutto sliced thinly to order if you can, though the packaged sliced prosciutto at many grocery stores will do in a pinch. Cook it until it starts to get smoky. You may think it’s burning, but it’s not. Prosciutto doesn’t get crispy right away. It must cool down in order to harden, so keep an eye on the baking sheet and take it out when the fat on the edges is golden brown.
Any melon will work in this dish except watermelon—it’s great to use a variety of heirloom melons (Charentais, a small French varietal of cantaloupe, is one of my favorites). To check a melon for ripeness, gently press the navel end (where the blossom was), and then take a sniff. It should give slightly and emit a floral fragrance.
- Yield: 8 Servings
- 2 tablespoons honey (preferably local and wild; see honey)
- 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cups ice cubes
- 8 cups water
- 1 large head radicchio
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- ½ small cantaloupe
- 8 very thin slices prosciutto
- 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Flaky finishing salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE Heat the honey in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it bubbles, thickens slightly, and turns a shade darker, about 1 minute. Remove immediately from the heat. Be careful not to overcook the honey.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, salt, mustard, and pepper. Allow this mixture to stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the honey and the oil. If the honey seizes up when you stir it in, put the entire mixture back into the saucepan used to cook the honey. Set the pan over medium heat and stir to dissolve. When the dressing has cooled, check for seasoning (dip a piece of radicchio into the dressing) and adjust as needed.
- MAKE THE SALAD Fill a large bowl with the ice and water. Quarter the radicchio lengthwise and remove the core. Tear the radicchio quarters into roughly 2-inch pieces. Soak the radicchio in the ice water for 1 hour.
- Pick the leaves from the parsley bunch and add them to the ice water. Drain the radicchio and parsley and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner. Wrap them in a paper towel or kitchen towel, place inside a plastic bag, and set aside in the refrigerator.
- Peel and seed the melon. Slice it into ¼-inch-thick half-moons. Set aside on a plate or in a bowl in the refrigerator (uncovered is fine).
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Lay the prosciutto slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes or until the fat is golden brown. If it isn’t ready, return the baking sheet to the oven, but check every minute to ensure the prosciutto doesn’t burn. You should expect light smoking. The prosciutto will crisp up once it has cooled to room temperature.
- Put the chilled radicchio and parsley in a metal mixing bowl. Using a large-holed Microplane grater, grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano into the mixture. Season lightly with flaky finishing salt and pepper. Pour ¼ cup of the vinaigrette around the perimeter of the salad and mix in from the sides with your hands, tossing well. Taste the greens for acidity and sweetness and add more vinaigrette to taste. Arrange 3 or 4 melon slices in an overlapping pattern on each plate. Cover with the radicchio-parsley mixture and top with 1 piece crispy prosciutto. Spoon a generous teaspoon of vinaigrette over the melon slices and top with a little finishing salt and pepper. Serve immediately.