Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Winter vegetables can be rad.
How often have you been at the farmers market and, unsure of how to pronouce the vegetable you're looking at, mumbled "I'll have one of those" under your breath while pointing at the object of your desire? Let's agree to stop doing that. Head out to the market this weekend and confidently ask for the rah-dee-key-oh.
Radicchio is a type of chicory (as is puntarelle) and, along with artichokes, burdock, and Jerusalem artichokes, a member of the sunflower family. Endive, another member of the family, is especially closely related to chicories (they’re all in the Chichorium genus) and they're confusingly named depending on where you live in the world -- what we think of as endive is known elsewhere as chicory.
There are a number of varieties of radicchio: Most are named after the area of Italy where they're grown, and a handful have protected geographic indication (Indicazione Geografica Protetta or IGP). These labels guarantee that the item comes from a specific region, that its quality and characteristics can be traced back to its geographical origin, and that at least one phase of production and/or processing takes place in its designated region.
The most popular type of radicchio in the U.S. -- and thus the type you're most likely to get your hands on -- is Chioggia (1), or more properly: Radicchio Rosso di Chioggia. It's rounded, and looks like a small head of cabbage. Once you find it, you'll be able to have it on hand for awhile: Deborah Madison says that Chiogga radicchio "keeps well for weeks in the refrigerator should you need to store it that long, though it’s always better to use things sooner than later.”
You're also likely to be able to find Treviso (Radicchio Rosso di Treviso), which is milder in flavor, and more elongated in shape (2) -- like a giant version of endive. Tardivo comes from the same Treviso plant, but looks more like a sea creature with curling tentacles. It gets its otherworldly looks from a forced second growth, not unlike endive.
Marcella Hazen, who left us with an abundance of food wisdom, had her own radicchio preferences: “The noblest members of the family -- radicchio di Castelfranco, radicchio di Treviso, tardivo di Treviso -- make an eagerly awaited entrance around November...The greatest of the three and, in my opinion, the most magnificent vegetable grown, is Treviso’s dazzling tardivo or late-harvest radicchio.”
Although you can find radicchio year-round, it’s at its best in the cooler months -- its trademark bitterness is more assertive in warmer months. Select crisp-looking specimens, remove any sad, wilty leaves (3) before use, and mentally prepare yourself for any red radicchio to become a less-appealing shade of brown once cooked.
The Pros Propose*
Marcella Hazen lets us in on a secret tip she learned from the radicchio growers of Chioggia: "Although the whole, bright red leaf looks very attractive in a salad, radicchio can be made to taste sweeter by splitting the head in half, then shredding it fine on the diagonal...Do not discard the tender, upper part of the root just below the base of the leaves, because it is very tasty."
Nancy Harmon Jenkins says: "Here in Italy we usually sliver the radicchio in fine slices and dress it a bit ahead of serving with excellent olive oil and a few drops of good wine vinegar, plus salt, of course. Both techniques -- slivering and dressing in advance -- help to cut down on bitterness."
Once you procure your radicchio, try one of our 11 favorite ways to use it:
We can't deny it, radicchio is great in salad.
But there's no need to limit radicchio to just side dishes.
We can't wait to hear how you like to use radicchio -- tell us in the comments.
Final photo by James Ransom, all other photos by Mark Weinberg