Grill radicchio with olive oil and salt or flour and fry it to accompany meats. Radicchio can be sautéed or baked. Cooked radicchio will add color and its distinctive flavor to soups, rice, legumes, pasta, omelets, and tofu.
Radicchio—there are several cultivars–is a variety of leaf chicory that resembles a small red head of lettuce or cabbage. Radicchios can range in size from a large radish to a large grapefruit. The leaves range in color from bronzy green to wine red or magenta and are veined in white. Some varieties start out green leafed but turn deep reddish colored when the temperature drops.
The peak season for radicchio is midwinter to early spring, but in cool summer regions it can be grown year-round. The slightly bitter taste of radicchio sweetens with cooler day temperatures.
Radicchio is the generic Italian name for chicory. Other common names for radicchio are Italian chicory, heading chicory, rosette chicory, spring chicory, leaf chicory, and Italian dandelion.
The cultivation of radicchio began in earnest in Italy during the sixteenth century. The development of modern cultivars began in the 1860s.
There are five notable varieties of radicchio:
• Chioggia (Rosa di Chioggia): the most common radicchio resembles a compact head of cabbage with dark wine-colored leaves and white ribs with a bittersweet to bitter taste.
• Verona Red or Rossa di Verona: another favorite radicchio produces a bright, red head with prominent midribs and veins. Verona resembles an elongated butterhead lettuce with tender but firm leaves that are slightly bitter.
• Treviso or Rossa di Treviso: green and bitter during hot weather, its second growth produces bright red, cone-shaped head with pure-white central ribbing and leaf veins. This was the first red chicory developed during the sixteenth century.
• Early Treviso: resembles a small reddish-purple romaine lettuce with a slender and tapered head of reddish-purple leaves and white ribs.
• Castelfranco: crinkled lettuce-like leaves, egg-shell colored blotched with wine-red speckles; mild flavor and tender texture; probably a cross between a radicchio and an escarole.
Radicchio is native to the Mediterranean region. Its modern cultivation has centered in the Vento region of northern Italy.
Choose. Select firm heads that are crisp, fresh, and full-colored. Avoid heads with brown or wilted leaves or heads with damaged bases.
Store. Radicchio will keep wrapped in a paper towel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for 2 to 3 days. Store radicchio unwashed.
If wilted soak leaves in a bowl of cold water to revive. Prepare radicchio as you would lettuce: cut out the core in a cone.
Serve. Eat radicchio raw or cooked. You can use radicchio in place of chicory and escarole in most recipes.
Temper its bitter flavor by mixing with other salad greens. Dress radicchio with vinaigrette.
- Use radicchio as a shell to hold chicken, tuna, or seafood salad. You can also use radicchio “cups” to contain crudités, olives, cheese, potato salad, rice salad, and fruit salad.
- Cut radicchio into wedges and toss with olive oil, top with cheese, and broil until the red leaves turn reddish brown.
- Add radicchio to cooked soups, rice, legumes, pasta, omelets, and tofu.
- Grill radicchio leaves or cook a whole head on a spit.
Flavor partners. Radicchio has a flavor affinity for butter, fresh shell beans, Italian cheeses, lemon, olive oil, prosciutto, red onions, salami, and vinegar.
Nutrition. Radicchio contains folic acid, potassium, copper, and vitamin C.
The botanical name for radicchio is Cichorium intybus.