What is Radicchio?

Radicchio, although often thought to be a colorful red lettuce or cabbage, is actually a type of chicory (leafy vegetable family).  It has a bitter taste and gets most of its fame in Italian cooking where they grow at least 15 varieties, most named after the regions where they originate.

How to Cook Radicchio

But here in the US, it isn’t as popular, and usually we can find one main variety called radicchio di Chioggia (originated in Choggia, Italy but now mostly grown in California for US purposes). Another variety in the US markets (albeit not as common) is Treviso which tastes a little more delicate and less bitter.

While it is delicious and certainly can be used in a “lettuce”-way, it actually is much more versatile than your typical lettuce. The Italians know this well and have been grilling, roasting, and cooking it for centuries.

What Does Radicchio Look Like? 

Choggia radicchio does indeed look like a small reddish-purple cabbage or head of lettuce. The leaves are fairly thick (slightly cabbage-like), and they have white veins and are tightly formed in a round (sometimes elongated) head. The smaller the radicchio head, the thinner and less bitter the leaves. 

How to Cook Choggia Radicchio

Treviso radicchio is elongated, and its shape looks more like that of romaine lettuce. 

Where Can I Find Radicchio?

Typical Choggia radicchio is generally found in most supermarkets in the produce section year-round. The Treviso variety, and others, can be harder to find and often can be found in specialty markets.

How Do I Pick the Best Radicchio?

Like any produce, a head of radicchio should be bright in color, crisp, and free of any damage or bruises. The leaves of radicchio should thick and tightly bound (if the outer leaves are a little limp, simply remove and make sure what is under is ideal).

What Does Radicchio Taste Like?

I find people either love radicchio or hate it…or just have never tried it. It has a bitter taste, almost spicy at times. When cooked, it mellows in flavor. Radicchio leaves are crisp with a bit of density that gives a bit of chewiness.  Its best substitute is either endive (a little milder in flavor and different in color) and dandelion greens (similar in taste although very different in look and texture). Treviso radicchio and some other Italian varieties are a little more delicate and less bitter than the more common Choggia.

How Do I Prepare Radicchio? 

For almost all recipes using radicchio, preparation is quite simple.  Discard any wilted or damaged outer leaves and then wipe the head with a damp paper towel. Because the head is so tightly wrapped, the inner leaves usually are free of dirt.

Then it is just a matter of cutting it in shapes and pieces desired for whatever recipe you are doing!  I like to either tear it or sliver it for salads.  Wedges are great for grilling and roasting, and bite sized pieces are more conducive for sautéing.

How Do I Cook Radicchio? 

Thinly sliced, or ripped in pieces, radicchio is often added into lettuce mixes for salads. The Italians have cornered the market on recipes using radicchio to its fullest potential: grilling, roasting and sautéing really highlight this vegetable.  It is almost always cooked with olive oil, whether sautéed or roasted.  

Blue Cheese, Radicchio, Onion and Honey Flatbread Strips / Carrie Crow / Katie Workman / themom100.com

In classic, simple Italian cooking it can be grilled or roasted in chunks or wedges, then topped off with a little fresh Parmesan and a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar.  This is a perfect side dish to various meats.  

Radicchio can also stand up well with other ingredients which help highlight and complement its bitter flavor, such as citrus, bacon, capers, walnuts, and different cheeses.  It can also be added to soups and stews.

When is Radicchio in Season?

Radicchio can generally be found year-round but its peak season is midwinter to early spring.

What Types of Radicchio are There?

There are a lot of types or radicchio, but many of them are hard to find.  But seriously seek them out – not only are they delicious, they are GORGEOUS.  Look for Variegato Radicchio,  Rosso Tardivo Radicchio, Rosa di Padova Radicchio, La Rosa di Veneto Radicchio, all of which have different colorings, shapes, textures, and tastes.  A salad made with an assortment of different kinds of radicchio are simply stunning.

Frisee, Radicchio and Escarole Salad with Citrus Dressing

How Do I Store Radicchio?

The best way to store radicchio is unwashed and in a bag in the vegetable bin in the refrigerator. Like this, it will last 4-5 days. Washing the leaves before storing tends to encourage the growth of mold and bacteria, so don’t wash it until just before preparing. If your head or leaves are looking a little limp, you may be able to revive them by soaking them in an ice bath for about 10 minutes.

Is Radicchio Nutritious?

Radicchio has a high nutrient profile. Radicchio offers lots of fiber (digestion), potassium (regulates nerve signals and muscles), calcium and Vitamin K (good for the bones), a range of the Vitamin B’s (good for metabolism) and Vitamin C (good for immunity and gut health). 

7 Radicchio Recipes:

Here are some recipes that use radicchio.

Blue Cheese, Radicchio, Onion and Honey Flatbread Strips

The perfect sophisticated nibble to serve with cocktails, and so easy to make.

Frisee, Radicchio and Escarole Salad with Citrus Dressing

When you are serving up a rich main course a bitter greens salad is the most amazing counterpoint.

Radicchio and Endive Crostini with Aged Goat Cheese and Balsamic Glaze

Slightly bitter lettuces turn into a sweet topping with a bit of balsamic glaze.

Endive, Radicchio and Citrus Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

Dinner feeling a little drab? Add this burst of color and flavor.

Endive and Radicchio Salad with Fresh Mozzarella

It never ceases to please me how simple can be so pretty

Spicy Braised Radicchio and Red Cabbage with Citrus / Katie Workman / themom100.com / Photo by Mia

Spicy Braised Radicchio and Red Cabbage with Citrus

A gorgeous addition to any holiday table – we always had a braised cabbage of some sort for the big Jewish holiday meals.

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