See also mesclun.
Radicchio adds a refreshingly spicy edge to salads and sandwiches
Radicchio is a red, Italian leaf-chicory. It offers a spicy bitterness
that can add a bite to dishes when used raw, or that can be tamed
through grilling or roasting.
Radicchio has been around and appreciated for centuries. In his Naturalis Historia,
Pliny the Elder made note of the health benefits of this leafy
vegetable, and he also claimed that radicchio was first cultivated by
the Egyptians, making its time of origin uncertain but epic.
Beginning on a large scale in fifteenth century Italy, radicchio
cultivation quickly spiced up the lives of Medieval monks who were
tired of their bland, generally-vegetarian diets. It was also favored
by nobility who served it up cooked and raw.
radicchio eaten by Pliny and by the monks of the Middle Ages differed
from that which we eat today. Cultivation of the modern radicchio plant
didn’t begin until the late 1800s, after the Belgian agronomist
Francesco Van den Borre engineered plants with the lush red-colored
leaves and strikingly contrasting white veins. While the crunch and
spice have been features of the radicchio throughout the ages, we have
Van den Borre to thank for its culinary artistic value.
Radicchio varieties get their names from the
areas of Italy in which they were originally cultivated. Interestingly,
some radicchio farmers in Veneto, Italy, have attempted to protect the
names of their varieties, such as Tardivo, so that the names can only
be used for the plants grown in their region under their supervision. Radicchio di Chioggia
is most readily available in the United States, recognizable by its
deep maroon color and its size and shape, which is comparable to that
of a grapefruit
The radicchio di Treviso
is larger, almost football-shaped, and may sport a less intense coloring than the Radicchio di Chioggia.
Less common in the U.S. are the flower-like radicchios called Tardivo
and radicchio di Castelfranco
, which is a translucent white color.
Seek the most strikingly vivid radicchio:
deep reds complemented by the contrast of bright white veins. Overly
soft leaves or noticeable blemishes usually indicate that the vegetable
is past its prime.
Purchase radicchio right before you plan to
use it. It’s hardier than other chicories, but its quality still
diminishes quickly over just a few days in the refrigerator.
keep it for as long as possible, wash it and then dry it by shaking out
the leaves, wrapping it in a damp cloth and keeping it in a cool
location or the fridge crisper.
Don’t wrap it too tight, and
be careful of any sort of airtight packaging, which will encourage
rotting. The leaves need to “breathe.”
In the United States, radicchio is most
popular as a raw addition to salads or specialty sandwiches, both for
its strong flavor and its unique decorative quality. Radicchio nicely supplements green salads, going particularly well with vinegar
dressings as well as gourmet cheeses.
Italy, home of the radicchio and scores of radicch