Oh, radicchio. I love you so.
Radicchio is way up there on my "Favorite Vegetables" list.
Partly it's the name. I adore its Italian name and heritage. I love saying the word: ra-di (slight pause) -cchio. Beautiful sounds. I long to go to Italy, where I imagine I would enjoy a delightful grilled radicchio with a nice wine outside a lovely cafe.
Partly it's the unique color and texture: often a deep chianti color that adds a nice pop to any dish it finds itself in, with more crunch then the average lettuce, yet less than cabbage - in other words, just right.
Partly it's the taste: on the bitter side, yes, yet when added to a team of other ingredients it can become MVP - much like its cousins in the chicory family, frisee, endive, and escarole. It is a welcome addition to a blend of lettuces, giving salads a kick. It can balance the flavor of a dish, working well with a nut-based cream sauce or a sweet balsamic vinegar. It adds texture to risotto and pizza. As mentioned earlier, its sturdiness allows it to be grilled or roasted, which tends to mellow the flavor.
Plus, it's just gorgeous.
Radicchio has a few primary varieties, each from a different area in Italy, according to Babbo’s website, which is Mario Batali’s and Joe Bastianich’s ristorante in NYC (a girl can dream):
Radicchio Chioggia: from the Italian city Chioggia (in the province of Venice), it’s the variety we typically see in the US - the small, ruby and white cabbage-like ball we see in our grocery stores.
Radicchio Treviso: from Treviso (north of Venice), this version is long and resembles its fellow chicory, endive. A version of this variety can be seen here at Italy Magazine.
Radicchio Castelfranco: from Castelfranco (a town of Veneto, north of Venice) it has a unique creamy white background speckled with purple or ruby red. I’d like to see one in person; for now, we can click here to see it on Babbo’s site.
According to Italy Magazine, radicchio can be found going all the way back to the writings of Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), who wrote an encyclopedia of natural history describing radicchio's ability to ease insomnia and purify blood. He also mentioned "whitening" the vegetable by cutting off young sprouts at a certain point. Today, the red and white colors are achieved by harvesting in the fall, taking off the outer leaves, and placing the radicchio in a dark cellar with spring water continuously circulating on the roots.
Radicchio can sometimes be hard to find at the local grocery, and expensive by the pound. Since radicchio is generally small, though, and usually not much is needed to make a difference in your dish, you don't need to spend much. And if you are lucky enough to have a farmer's market still open in your area, they may have a bit of it left. Stored in a plastic bag in my fridge, I've had heads of radicchio last for a few weeks.
Recently I was fortunate enough to find gorgeous heirloom Palla Rossa, a type of Radicchio Chioggia, when I visited Tani Creek Farm’s stand at the Bainbridge Island Farmer’s Market. This year, the farms have committed to continuing the market through the fall season - woo hoo! I fell in love with the adorable little bulbs of Palla Rossa there. So beautiful. Like a wrapped gift.
You may notice that the one pictured below has green here and there because it was exposed to sunlight instead of going through the color forcing process. Max at Tani Creek Farm told me that the outer leaves have more green pigmentation due to exposure to sunlight, and deeper into the heads it's blanched and generally sweeter. The more sunlight, the more green over time. Personally, I find the green color to be really beautiful with the ruby red and creamy white, and still found the green radicchio to be just as delicious when added to a dish. This was a small head, so it still added a subtle bitter crunch.
The latest dish I made with radicchio: Pinto Bean Burrito with White Garlic Sauce. It's not an official tested recipe at this point; more like a "wing it" that went right. Here are the ingredients I included:
Pinto beans, chili powder, a touch of pink salt, sautéed onion and bell pepper, avocado, salsa, scallion, cilantro, and beloved radicchio. I also used a tablespoon or two of a white garlic sauce made with cashews. The result: delicious, full of texture and flavor. Quick and easy, too!
Check out the gorgeous, intricate pattern in the leaf grouping of sliced radicchio below. It's a tightly wound bundle like the center of a cinnamon roll. A satisfying, crisp and crunchy bite!