They live in the market on the top shelf of the produce aisle along with other vegetables that don’t frequent the dinner plate. Looking vaguely familiar, radicchio resembles a small head of red cabbage that is deeply veined with creamy white stripes.
Radicchio is a common ingredient in salad mixes, lending a vibrant pop of crimson to the all-green club. For many the experience begins and ends at the bags of salad. Radicchio sits on the top shelf for a reason, much like the esteemed bottle of wine.
A perennial vegetable, radicchio is the leaf of the Italian chicory plant. This cool weather crop is easy to grow from seeds planted in soil rich with organic matter. Since the plants have a shallow root system, they require frequent light watering. Once established, recurrent crops can be harvested.
Two predominant varieties are readily available at the market. Verona resembles a globe of ruby-colored butter lettuce, with a loosely formed head. The other varietal, Treviso is tightly packed and elongated with pointed ends, think scarlet-painted endive.
Bordering on bitter, radicchio’s sharp taste begs to be mellowed by matching it with softer flavors like velvety olive oil or creamy cheese such as gorgonzola. Radicchio’s bite mingles well with apples, pears and even sweet cherries.
Exposing radicchio leaves to some form of cooking will release natural sugars, relaxing the strong, pungent flavor. Utilizing high heat morphs the radicchio into the realm of earthy nuttiness. The upshot is a vegetable to be devoured as is or chopped and added to pasta, risotto, hash; the list continues with possibilities.
Pan roasting radicchio is a simple, stove-top preparation that doesn’t require a recipe. It yields a rustic side dish, light lunch or appetizer.
What you’ll need:
- One or two heads of radicchio
- Fruity olive oil
- Good quality balsamic vinegar
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper
- Chunk of Parmesan cheese
What you’ll do:
- Heat grill pan (or skillet) on medium high heat. When it is hot, add a swirl of oil.
- Wash and pat dry the radicchio and slice in half.
- Liberally brush with olive oil.
- Place in the hot pan, turning every few minutes until cooked and slightly charred.
- Remove from heat, place on a serving platter. Trickle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the roasted radicchio. Be generous. Season with salt and pepper; toss on grated Parmesan cheese.
- Serve with crusty bread to capture the bits of cheese, oil and vinegar that slide off.