Our Thanksgiving feast surrounds the turkey, gravy and stuffing with lots of vegetable side dishes: mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, succotash, winter squash, rutabaga, all offering rich, sweet, earthy and pungent flavors as well as soft, dense textures. In past years, to balance these heavier side dishes, I’ve experimented with opposite flavors and textures, most often in salads. Celery root and apple salad dressed with apple cider vinaigrette has been a good choice, both crisp and acidic. It’s pretty, too, with additions of toasted nuts and chopped parsley or arugula. Or I’ve made a simple salad of mache and sherry vinaigrette, fresh green contrasting the other mashed, roasted and pureed vegetables. Some years a guest will bring pickled vegetables or sweet and sour red cabbage and I skip a salad altogether because these acidic flavors work well to balance the richness of the other vegetables. This year, when we’ll have the same line up of rich side dishes, I’ve settled on a radicchio and pear salad, going for the pleasantly bitter flavor of radicchios and the fresh sweetness of the pears.
Radicchio and pear salad was an easy choice this year because the red and green radicchios and the pears from the kitchen garden have been so beautiful.
I’ve made this salad several times already. It goes together quickly, easy to do at the last minute. The green is Sugarloaf chicory and the red is Indigo radicchio. I usually slice the crisp leaves rather than tearing them because it’s quicker and I like their ribbon-like shape. The pears ripening now are Conference and Comice. I quarter them, peel them and then slice them into chunks. Toasted hazelnuts add their sweet, nutty flavor and some crunch. I’ve tried both sherry vinaigrette and balsamic vinaigrette and prefer balsamic because its complex sweetness complements the slight bitterness of the radicchio. Finally, this is a beautiful salad, one more reason to include it on the Thanksgiving table.