Sometimes known as Italian chicory, radicchio is a common addition to salad mixes for its beautiful coloring and piquant bitter flavor. Along with its culinary uses, radicchio has long been used medicinally as a blood purifier, a liver tonic, and even an ingredient in cosmetics to soothe irritated skin.
Descended from wild chicory plants, radicchio was first cultivated in the fifteenth century in the northern regions of Italy. In 1860, a Belgian agronomist developed a growing technique known as “whitening” or “preforcing” to encourage the plant’s intensity of color. Despite being a commonplace ingredient in European cuisine for centuries, radicchio was not commercially grown in the United States until the 1980s.
Radicchio is rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as iron, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium.
Wrap the whole, unwashed head of radicchio in a dampened paper towel and store in a half-sealed bag in a refrigerator crisper for up to 4 days. Wilted leaves can sometimes be revived by soaking in cold water.
Radicchio is traditionally eaten grilled with olive oil, or mixed into heavy dishes such as risotto. It can also be served with pasta, used as a poultry stuffing, or be included in the flavorful condiment tapenade. The cup-shaped leaves can also be used to serve dips or chicken or tuna salad.
Cut the whole radicchio into wedges, toss with olive oil, and top with shaved semi-hard cheese such as Gruyere or Reggiano. Broil at high heat until the red leaves turn reddish-brown. Serve warm with a citrus vinaigrette.
If you find your radicchio too bitter, try soaking leaves in cold water for two hours before preparing.