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August, 2012

Ingredient Challenge: Red Plums/Radicchio/Honeydew Melon

By Dennis Linden

This no fuss recipe really celebrates the summer season with dazzling colors and a light, almost playful, freshness in its flavors.

Chef Louie Jocson of the Red Table Restaurant in Huntington Harbour, CA

Looking for that perfect first course small plate to start off a summer dinner party with a flair, or perhaps set a special-occasion mood for a more intimate serving for two? Look no further. Chef Louie Jocson of the Red Table Restaurant in Huntington Harbour, CA, uses this month’s challenge ingredients to create a dish that will fit both occasions with eloquence. Here is a dish with a very simple list of ingredients and ease of preparation that belies its complexity of flavors.

This no fuss recipe really celebrates the summer season with dazzling colors and a light, almost playful, freshness in its flavors. Chef’s Louie’s recipe is extremely dinner party friendly as two of its three components, the Plum Vinaigrette and Melon Relish, can be made a day in advance. At serving time, simply grill the radicchio quarters and plate. One cautionary note: Serving such an impressive looking starter, which tastes even better than it looks, will set the bar of expectation quite high for your dinner guests. Just something to keep in mind when choosing a main entrée and dessert; this dish is a very hard act to follow. Though, that is part of the fun of cooking for a group...good luck!

The real eye candy of this dish is the fresh plum vinaigrette. The brilliant color just draws one’s attention immediately to the plate presentation. One of the perks of writing this feature is getting to pick the ingredients. Plums of any kind are, by far, my most favored hand fruits; so I was hoping that this feature would give me another way (and excuse) to prepare them. I love it when a plan comes together! I used a basic red plum for Chef Louie’s recipe, but one could change up the flavor a bit by using any of the many plum and plumcot varieties available throughout the summer season. The brilliance of the color will depend upon the pigment of the plum’s skin. Hmmm, yellow plums!

Plums are one of the healthiest fruits one can eat, so this vinaigrette is guilt free! A plum is extremely rich in antioxidants, which are essential to the overall health of the body. Consuming plums regularly will promote good blood circulation, prevent eye degeneration, keep the blood pure to guard against heart disease, and act as a natural deterrent to asthma, colon cancer, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, they are juicy delicious!

Chef Louie’s vinaigrette provides a tart sweetness that both contrasts and pairs perfectly with the slight bitterness of radicchio. In fact, radicchio can sometimes have a very strong bitter flavor to it. You can take a lot of that taste out of this lettuce by soaking the head in cold water for about 20 minutes. The longer the soak, the less bitter the taste will be. Make that an ice water bath to increase the intensity of radicchio’s bright red color.

By grilling the radicchio, Chef Louie also brings out its natural sugars, creating a delicious new flavor compared to serving the lettuce uncooked. The heat of the grill also causes radicchio to turn a soft brown, much like a caramelized onion. While an open fire layers on even more flavor, a stove top flame can be almost as effective. For those who do not have a built-in grill on your stovetop, try using a small grill, like the kind found in a toaster oven, elevated on a wok pedestal over a flame burner. It’s much less work than firing up the barby and a lot more convenient, especially under the battle conditions of serving a table full of guests. A quick searing of the quarters on all side and you are good to plate. The crowning touch of color and taste to this incredible dish comes with Chef Louie’s Honeydew Melon Relish. Again, the chef’s creative genius is based on the simplicity of using a few very ordinary ingredients that combine into a burst of summertime freshness as it also cleanses the palate in preparation for the next bite.

The honeydew is a unique melon. Its outlandish neon green fruit coloring is the antithesis of this melon’s distinctive, yet subdued, sweetness. Chef Louie sprinkles this mild sweetness with a hint of mint, chives, shallot and lemon. For those who must watch blood sugar levels, I substituted the chef’s brown sugar with half the amount of Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup. Life without agave would be bitter-sweet! The result is quite a colorful topping that, no pun, puts this dish over the top!

One of my favorite things about giving a dinner party is both managing and watching the dynamics of this social event transition from its initial chatty cocktail stage to the guests gathering at the table. The DINNER-IS-SERVED phase always starts with the excited sounds of a roomful of people finishing up conversations as they find their seats. From the kitchen it is all just a hum of folks having a good time, though only snippets of sentences and laughter are heard through the focus of getting the show on the road with the first course.

Chef Louie’s Grilled Radicchio w/ Roasted Plum Vinaigrette & Minted Melon Relish is guaranteed to quiet your table, one by one, as the dish is tasted. By the time the last plate is served, the chatter will have dwindled to only the clinking of utensils against plates. The sound of one fork clapping! The silence at your table will be a happy one, thanks to Chef Louie Jocson’s culinary imagination. Of course, you will already be thinking about the challenge ahead -- that next course waiting in the wings! Good luck and happy forks!

Grilled Radicchio with Roasted Plum Vinaigrette & Honeydew Relish
Grilled Radicchio with Roasted Plum Vinaigrette & Honeydew Relish

Plum Vinaigrette:
3 Plums – cut in half, seeds removed
4 ounces White Balsamic Vinegar
4 ounces Olive Oil

Season plums with salt and pepper, place in oven of 375 degrees Fahrenheit, roast until very soft. Place plum halves in blender or food processor, on medium to high speed, add vinegar, and then slowly add oil until well incorporated, season with salt and pepper if needed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Minted Melon Relish:
2 cups Honeydew Melon, small dice
2 Tablespoon Mint, chopped
1 Tablespoon Chives, chopped
1 Tablespoon Shallot, minced
2 ounces Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Brown Sugar
Place all ingredients in mixing bowl, fold together, season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

1 head Radicchio, quartered
Season with salt and pepper and olive oil and grill until lightly scored.

Plating (per serving)
2 Tablespoon Roasted Plum Vinaigrette – pooled in center of plate
2 quarters of grilled Radicchio stacked artfully in center of pool
2 ounces Minted Melon Relish lightly sprinkled over radicchio