Multiple times, I have spoken to a friend who grabbed a head of radicchio thinking it was a small head of red cabbage, when in reality, they were actually holding radicchio.
Perhaps they just went on a whim to the farmer’s market and grabbed one from the shelf. Then, they didn’t know what to do.
My American friends are not to blame. Radicchio is not getting the recognition it merits in the United States. I think it is because of the bitter flavor.
A vertical close-up of the heads of radicchio recently harvested. The text is printed in white and green at both the top and bottom.
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For those who grew up eating iceberg leaves, it might seem strange to try the leaves. It is also prized in other parts of the globe for its multifaceted, herbal, and bitter flavors.
Italian growers have spent many decades perfecting their craft of breeding new varieties. The creation of some varieties is also considered an artistic expression.
Radicchio rosso Di Treviso IGP tardivo is an heirloom variety that needs to grow in a certain way, be picked at a certain time, and be blanched in low light to get a second round that is very sensitive.
The acronym IGP stands for “Indicazione Geoografica Protetta”, which means “Indication of Geographic Protection.” This indicates that the unique vegetable’s quality is directly related to its origin.
Although backyard gardeners may not be able to produce an exact copy of this exquisitely produced Italian variety, anyone who is unable to obtain it directly from Italy can still try to recreate the culinary masterpiece in their own backyards by growing their own vegetables.
Close-up of the ‘Treviso radicchio’. It has been placed in a wicker container and is displayed against a dark background.
You can use the leaves in many dishes, including soups and risotto. Or, you can finish them off with a light coating of olive oil before they are served.
Even if bitter tastes are not your thing, I believe you’ll enjoy the subtlety of these plants once you learn how to grow them and how to cook with them.
There is also nothing better than figuring out how you can take advantage of the months when everyone else is tucking in their garden for winter or spring. These are the months that everyone else’s garden is being tucked away for winter or just getting started in the spring.
My feeling is that many northern gardeners don’t place the priority of gardening in the months of November, October, March, and April high on their calendars.
You can grow cabbage, lettuce, and leeks beyond the normal growing season. This is possible by using specific techniques and equipment like cold frames and frost blankets. But who wants to do all that labor?
Radicchio can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 and higher.
I feel superior to being able to share my newly collected delicacies with my neighbors even though it is snowing outside. This happens long after they have put their last tomato plant in the compost pile. It makes me feel like a genius to do this. You can too, my friend.
These plants are very picky about their water requirements and temperature. Timing is the key to their success. You will succeed if you understand what they need.
Are you curious to see what lies ahead? Good! These topics will be addressed:
Radicchio can be described as a cultivated version of Cichorium intybus wild chicory, also known as Italian chicory. Radicchio (pronounced rahDEEKee-oh) is an Italian term for chicory.
It is part of the Asteraceae family, which also includes dandelions and sunflowers.
A horizontal perspective showing a radicchio head growing in the garden, with water drops on the leaves.
Italy’s foragers search the countryside for tender chicory greens. Chefs love the chicory leaves that have been grown in cultivation.
We have a complete guide for growing chicory if you’re interested in finding out more about the chicory plant from which radicchio was derived.
Radicchio contains a lot of vitamins C, E, K, B9 (folic acid), C and E. Additionally, anthocyanins are flavonoid pigments that are responsible for the deep purple colors in many varieties of this vegetable.
This plant can live for up to two years. However, it is usually treated as an annual and harvested within its first year. It will flower in its second year if you let nature take its course. Then it will die.
A head made from radicchio “Variegato” that is yellow and pink with pink specks. It is laid on a wood surface.
Many of the heritage varieties have their origins in Veneto, in northeastern Italy.
The most popular form in America is the Chioggia variety. It looks like a miniature red cabbage, and it is shaped like a sphere.
A vertical close-up of two different varieties of radicchio heads One is shaped like an octopus and the other is round and found at the bottom.
Kristine Lofgren took this photograph.
You are wrong to assume that Chioggia can also be called a variety of beet. These varieties were developed by growers who came from the same coast in Italy.
History and Cultivation
Chicory in its wild, uncultivated state has traveled all over the globe, from Australia and Africa, to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, thanks to both humans and animals transporting it.
As time went on, plant breeders made chicory better and made the more refined types we know today.
A close-up horizontal image of the heads of Radicchio being sold at a market.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date when wild chicory was bred into the magnificent red radicchio you can buy at your local grocer or grow in the garden. It’s possible it took place in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It is possible, however, that blanching this food crop started in the Veneto region in Italy in the fifteenth century. This was when a farmer forgot to collect chicory and left it there.
He discovered the soft, tender, yet delicious leaves inside, after removing the rotten cover.
While some believe that the French invented the method of forcing chicory heads into their heads, another legend says that it was discovered by Italian farm workers. This version states that the Italian farmers protected the vegetables from freezing by placing them under straw mattresses.
Legend has it that the red Treviso Radicchio, now revered around the world, was introduced to the garden of Villa Palazzi Taverna in Milan in the late 1850s by Francesco Van den Borre, a gardener. This tale is probably the most common.
Van den Borre is believed to have grown chicory greens from local sources using the same blanching method that was used previously to make Belgian endive. This claim has not been confirmed.
This method, whatever its truth, has been perfected over many centuries in a variety of places throughout Italy.