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Expand Your Radicchio Repertoire

By Annie Petito Published

Cooking this striking chicory alters its bitter character, opening up a world of possibilities beyond the salad bowl.

Every year, a group of food lovers in the Pacific Northwest collaborates to celebrate and promote radicchio. Local chefs feature assorted varieties of the vegetable on their menus, farmers exchange knowledge, and participants socialize at a gala featuring radicchio‑centric dishes. The event, known as Chicory Week, was inspired by the sagre (regional food festivals) of Italy, where radicchio was first cultivated, and is the brainchild of Jason Salvo and Siri Erickson‑Brown, owners of Local Roots Farm in Duvall, Washington, who have been growing radicchio for 15 years.

Medicinal Radicchio?

  • In his encyclopedic tome Naturalis Historia (77 CE), ancient Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder praised radicchio not only for being tasty but also for its purported healing properties and use as a sleep aid. A fluid called lactucarium (sometimes called “lettuce opium”), secreted from the base of the stem of the plant, was used as an analgesic, sedative, and even euphoriant. Today we know that radicchio (and some other chicories and lettuces) contains two substances, lactucin and lactucopicrin, that give radicchio its characteristic bitter taste, but no medicinal effect has been proven.

After weeks of working with radicchio in my own kitchen, I grew to share Jason and Siri’s enthusiasm and wanted to join them in championing this “beautiful food,” as Jason calls it, and its different personalities. Enjoy radicchio raw to capitalize on the assertive bitterness of its crisp, burgundy‑hued leaves, or experience the lovely transformation that happens when heat is applied to the vegetable: Potent flavor compounds in the radicchio break down, unearthing a softer side with an underlying nutty sweetness.

When Growing Radicchio, There Is Beauty in Darkness

Here is an in-depth look at how this chicory is cultivated. 

The degree to which radicchio is cooked affects how much its taste changes. When briefly seared in a hot, oil-slicked skillet, its bright leaves darken and turn tender, yet most of its bravado is preserved. Roasting incites a more dramatic transformation, and braising goes further still, producing luxuriously tender bites that are sweet, rich, and mellow, with only a faintly bitter quality.

Shopping and Storage

Radicchio is generally available year-round, although spring and fall are the traditional growing seasons for chicories. Look for firm, closed heads that feel heavy for their size, and choose specimens with bright outer leaves that haven’t darkened or gone limp. Radicchio can be stored loosely wrapped in a produce bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Chioggia radicchio has been farmed in the United States since the late ’80s and is the supermarket standard.

The following three recipes demonstrate radicchio’s range. For a warm salad in which wedges of the chicory are deeply browned in a hot skillet, I complement its gutsiness with sweet, refreshing apple; rich toasted walnuts; salty Parmesan; and a creamy balsamic dressing. In a longer-cooked medley that highlights radicchio’s affinity for root vegetables, thick wedges are roasted with chunks of potato, parsnip, fennel, and shallot and drizzled with a lemony, herb-spiked dressing. Lastly, a rich braise calls for simmering shredded radicchio and chopped Granny Smith apple in heavy cream until the radicchio wilts into silky, mild-tasting ribbons and then enlivening it with a touch of cider vinegar.

Recipe Seared Radicchio Wedge Salad

Cooking this striking chicory alters its bitter character, opening up a world of possibilities beyond the salad bowl.

Recipe Lemony Roasted Radicchio, Fennel, and Root Vegetables

Cooking this striking chicory alters its bitter character, opening up a world of possibilities beyond the salad bowl.

Recipe Braised Radicchio with Apple and Cream

Cooking this striking chicory alters its bitter character, opening up a world of possibilities beyond the salad bowl.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.