The mellow relative of chicory, radicchio is a bitter, sweet plant that is traditionally eaten raw; shredded for salads and stirred through pasta. Although of Italian origin, radicchio as we know it today was cultivated by the Belgians in the 19th Century. Radicchio plants consist of a series of tightly closed, cup-shaped leaves. Boasting beautiful dark red and white-veined leaves, radicchio is distinctly different to chicory in appearance and flavour, becoming even milder in flavour when cooked.
Radicchio is a forced crop, cultivated under very specific growing conditions. Plants are removed from the ground during the early stages of growth, and then immediately placed in water in a dark shed. This lack of light allows for the production of chlorophyll subsequently causing the leaf’s pigmentation to turn from green to red.
Varieties of chicory include; Chioggia, Treviso, Tardivo, Castelfranco and Verona.
Seasonal period: January to April
Flavour friends: Radicchio is often combined with milder salad leaves to offset its bitterness. This bitterness however pairs perfectly with other dominant flavours whether that be saltiness, sweetness, pepperiness or particularly with acidity. Balsamic’s sweet palate softens radicchio’s distinct bite, working really well with saltiness introduced by ingredients such as bacon and parmesan. Citrus fruits and vinegars offer balance through the introduction of a little acidity.
Buying, storing and preparing: Purchase radicchio that has crisp, vibrant leaves that don’t appear to be wilting in any way. Break the leaves away from the base before washing well and using raw. Alternatively, wash the radicchio whole, slice into chunky wedges (quarters), oil and cook on a griddle pan. Radicchio can be kept in a sealed bag in the fridge for up to a week.
Cooking: Radicchio is traditionally eaten raw – roughly chop leaves and add to a salad or shred to stir through pasta sauces. Radicchio is also delicious charred – brush wedges of radicchio with a little oil before placing in a hot griddle pan.
Grilled: 2 minutes on each side
Chickpea Radicchio Wraps
Charred Radicchio with Sweet, Sticky Balsamic Bacon
Radicchio and Haricot Vert with Candied Walnuts
Radicchio, Apple and Celery Salad
Cheesy Pasta Bake with Sweet Potatoes and Radicchio
Words by Helen Upshall