Radicchio, the bitter vegetable that is often mistaken for colorful lettuce or red cabbage, is actually a type of chicory. In fact, it's often called Italian chicory because of its prominent position in Italian cooking. Radicchio is a perennial plant that's grown commercially in Italy and parts of America, with the number one grower located in California. The vegetable frequently appears in Italian recipes including salads, soups, risotto, pasta, and pizza.
What Is Radicchio?
Radicchio (pronounced rah-dee-key-oh) is a type of chicory with white veins and deep reddish-purple leaves that form a round or elongated head. Chicory is an herbaceous group of plants that includes Belgian endive. The roots of some chicory plants are also dried and ground to make a popular coffee substitute by the same name. Radicchio resembles a colorful head of cabbage or lettuce. It's just as easy to prepare, but it has a distinctive bitter taste that mellows with cooking. It comes with a higher price tag too.
How to Cook With Radicchio
Before using, trim any brown off of the stem and remove the limp outer leaves. Slice raw radicchio into thin strips and add to salads for extra crunch and a hit of spicy bitterness. When cooked, radicchio's bitter bite mellows and sweetens a little. It takes well to high-heat cooking methods like roasting and grilling, but it can also be slow-cooked and combined with other vegetables or meat.
What Does Radicchio Taste Like?
Radicchio has a bitter, spicy flavor, especially when eaten raw. It's often paired with sweet or acidic ingredients to make a salad with balanced flavors. When cooked, radicchio mellows and gains some sweetness while still retaining a little bitterness.
Thinly sliced, radicchio is frequently added into lettuce mixes for salads. The deep red vegetable is also a welcome addition to crunchy slaws. Roasted or grilled wedges are a tasty side dish on their own or can be added to other dishes like pasta, risotto, or pizza. Chopped radicchio can be sautéed or braised, much like cabbage, and served as a side or stuffed into poultry.
Where to Buy Radicchio
Thanks to the popularity of Italian cooking, radicchio is widely available year-round. Look for individual heads of radicchio in the refrigerated produce section of your grocery store sold per pound. Grown in warmer climates, the bitter vegetable tends to be at its best in the winter months, usually arriving locally in November. Look for radicchio that is firm with crisp, colorful leaves and no browning or bad spots.
To grow radicchio at home, sow seeds in the early spring a few weeks before the last frost or in midsummer for a fall harvest. You can pick individual leaves anytime or wait and harvest the heads when they're firm.
How to Store Radicchio
Radicchio can last for up to two weeks in the crisper drawer of your fridge, but for the best texture, use within a week of purchase. Wash just before use and remove the outer most leaves before slicing. Raw, sliced radicchio will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days. Cooked radicchio will also keep for about two days in the fridge but is best eaten right after cooking.
Radicchio vs. Red Cabbage
Often mistaken for each other in the grocery store, Chioggia radicchio and red cabbage are actually two different plants. Radicchio has a strong bitter taste with thinner and less waxy leaves than cabbage. Red cabbage has a milder taste and thicker, crunchier leaves with a more uniform purple color. You can sometimes swap one for the other in raw and cooked recipes, but the flavor will be markedly different. You can tell the two purple vegetables apart by radicchio's distinctive white-veined leaves and deeper, redder background color.
Now popular in a long list of countries, radicchio's culinary home is Italy, and most varieties are named after the region where they are grown. Two main types of radicchio can be found in the supermarket. The most common variety is Chioggia, which closely resembles a round head of red cabbage. To tell the two apart, look for the bright white veins on a head of radicchio. Treviso is longer in shape, similar to a head of romaine lettuce but with the trademark radicchio coloring. Treviso tends to be milder in flavor, but the two can be used interchangeably in recipes. Other varieties, like the white-colored Castelfranco, are grown in Italy and by smaller growers but aren't typically found in the supermarket.