Radicchio is a type of chicory, the family of crops that also includes frisée, escarole, and endive. Wild radicchio first emerged in 15th-century Italy; over time, new cultivars developed, and today there is staggering variety to this elegant vegetable. Our recipes on page 13 mellow the bold taste of the ubiquitous dense, round Chioggia radicchio (often referred to as simply “radicchio”) with heat, but these three varieties have a sweeter, quieter taste that won't overtake a dish when they're used raw.
CASTELFRANCO (top): Named for the northern Italian town of Castelfranco Veneto, this prized variety features delicately crisp, creamy yellow leaves flecked with burgundy dots. It is variously nicknamed “Tulip of Winter,” “Edible Flower,” “Orchid Lettuce,” or “Winter Rose” because of its distinctive loose-leaf, floral-shaped heads. Its flavor is mild, with shades of bitterness. Serve it raw.
TREVISO PRECOCE (middle): Hailing from the area in and around Treviso, a city north of Venice, this variety is typically harvested in early fall (“precoce” means “early”). The dense, oblong heads have deep-maroon leaves with substantial white ribs running through their centers. Among the red varieties of radicchio, Treviso Precoce is one of the least bitter and can even be somewhat sweet. Serve it raw or roast it briefly in the oven.
TREVISO TARDIVO (bottom): The earliest ancestor of all cultivated radicchio, Treviso Tardivo is the same variety as Treviso Precoce, but it is harvested after the first frost (“tardivo” means “late”) and then put through a forcing process that renders it crunchier and less bitter than most varieties. Its long, slender leaves with curled tips cluster into heads that resemble an octopus. Serve it raw.