Last fall I got a call from Malaika, the farmer at Roots to River Farm, about radicchio. She'd been growing it. It was still in the field. There was a frost coming. Could I use a case or two?
I love helping out an organic produce farmer any time I can, but a case of radicchio, that's a whole lot of bitter salad. There was no way I could use it all up in the classes at the school in time. But I said yes, anyway. Young, beautiful organic produce farmers can affect me so.
I'd been to Barcelona not long before on an eating and drinking trip and had discovered Spanish Sweet Vermouth, devilishly delicious stuff that the natives drink every day at 4pm over ice with an orange wedge and a green olive. It is a ritual they call "taking vermouth" as if it were some kind of medicine. And with the secret formulation and infusion of countless herbs, roots, and spices, you could argue that it is just that. Unlike the dregs we get here, this stuff was complex and bitter-sweet, the kind of thing you'd really enjoy "taking."
The bitterness of the Spanish Vermouth often comes from gentian root or wormwood and brings balance to what would otherwise be just a sweet infused wine. Malaika does not grow wormwood or gentian. But boy, does she grow some beautiful radicchio.
Vermouth is infused white wine, even the sweet versions which look like red wine. I did a little research to come up with a local version, using herbs from our garden and some spices we have on hand including fresh chamomile leaves from Locust Light Farm - a local herbal CSA.
If you're coming to the school this fall or winter ask me for a taste of the vermouth. It's fantastic, really, and I'd be thrilled to give you a taste. -Ian