This bitter-sweet green is dense like cabbage, crunchy like romaine lettuce, and gets sweeter with each frosty night. Radicchio comes in many different shapes and colors and is the star of winter salads in the Pacific Northwest.
Flavor profile: With a crunchy texture and bitter-sweet flavor, radicchio is the perfect salad green throughout the fall and winter when lettuce isn’t as available.
Uses: Radicchio is commonly enjoyed both cooked and raw. Raw, it is absolutely crunchy delicious in winter salads. Cooked, it is often roasted in halves then chopped up in a hot salad, or sautéed and enjoyed as a pizza topping or alongside pasta.
Pairs with: However you prepare it, radicchio is commonly combined with acids, sugars, and fats that balance out the bitterness. Radicchio pairs well with creamy dressings, acidic dressings, cheese, nuts, and fresh fruits such as strawberries, peaches, apples, and pears. And if you’re a meat-eater, pork fat has long been a wondrous companion for bitter greens; there’s nothing like a farm-raised pork chop alongside a chicory salad!
Storage: Radicchio can be stored in your fridge in a plastic bag or closed container for a surprisingly long time. Similar to cabbage, you can usually just peel a few outer leaves off that are wrinkly or even a little rotten and still have a perfect head of greens within.
Other names: Radicchio is one of many chicory greens, the bitter cousins of lettuces that are frost-hardy. Other chicory varieties include treviso, costa rossa, castelfranco, etc.
Nutrients: Bitter foods offer a wide variety of health benefits, mostly aiding in digestive health. Bitters promote digestion and increase appetite and are very fast-acting. After just taking a couple bites of radicchio, you can feel your tummy start grumbling and hunger kicks in getting you ready for the rest of your meal.
History: Radicchio has a long history in Italy and has been increasing in popularity in the Pacific Northwest over the past decade. Italians have been growing radicchio for a very long time, developing techniques of forcing and blanching the plants to create the most tender, sweet crops possible. Forcing and blanching both involve intentional sunlight deprivation, which forces the plants to produce more crunchy, sweet, white stem material that is prized in winter salads.
Why it's a great crop: Radicchio and other chicories are incredible crops that can withstand harsh winter conditions and come out perfect on the other side. While lettuce wilts and dies the moment that a hard frost hits, radicchio thrives and gets sweeter with each frosty night. Even when you walk out into a field and think you only see dead plants, all you have to do is peel back a few rotten layers of leaves that sacrificed themselves to protect the pristine head of greens within. A fresh, crunchy green available in the middle of winter that isn’t kale will always be a key winter crop in the Pacific Northwest!