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Foodie guide to the winter flower of Veneto: the Radicchio

3 February 2010 No Comment

The pride of the Venetian cuisine, the radicchio makes its grand appear on our tables all throughout winter, from November till early April, a seasonal delicacy worth it waiting for.

radicchio

This colourful chicory, diffused in Veneto, has a very distinctive, sometimes slightly bitter taste although not many know that radicchio can be a “sweet and gentle” revelation. A versatile ingredient that gives that purple touch and unique flavour to many of our regional dishes, great to have it simply on its own in salads, grilled, to create creamy risotto, succulent pasta and lasagne (one of my fav are lasagne con radicchio ’n pancetta or pappardelle al radicchio) or as crucial ingredient to many meat and even fish recipes.

Pasticcio al Radicchio e Pancetta

The radicchio is cultivated in Veneto but has been around for quite some time which origins go probably back to the ancient Egypt, where Pliny the Elder cited the medical properties of this vegetable to relieve insomnia and as a blood purifier.

Nowadays, we know well the radicchio for its yummy properties but there are four main varieties of this chicory grown in different areas of Veneto all protected by the logo IGP (“indicazione geografica protetta”) and all differ in appearance and flavor:

  • radicchio_rosso_di_trevisothe long-shape Red Radicchio of Treviso, probably the most popular which comes in 2 varieties: Precoce, available at the beginning of the season and has a milder taste, and Tardivo, more flavourful with a bitter accent;
  • radicchio di verona

Verona Red Radicchio, bred from the radicchio rosso di Treviso but has a rounder shape;

  • radicchio di castelfranco

    Castelfranco Veined (“Variegato”) Radicchio, Known also as “il fiore che si mangia” as its flower-like   appearance, has a yellowish leaf with red speckles and looks much more like the traditional lettuce;

  • radicchio di chioggiaChioggia Red Radicchio, bred from the Variegato di Castelfranco has darker purple leaves and seems more like a cabbage.

    Since I come from the Marca Trevigiana, on my dinner table it could not be missing the Radicchio Tardivo di Treviso but not many might be aware of the long process behind it.
    The method of cultivation of this variety is called “imbianchimento” (whitening) a technique said to be introduced by a Belgian agronomist, Van den Borre, in the 19th century. The radicchio is planted in July, harvested in November when it still looks dark green, packed in special containers and laid in running spring-water at its natural temperature for about 20/25 days so that the roots would feed of this nourishing water.

    In those weeks the plants will grown a new reddish/white colour sprout. At this point the outer, old leaves are discharged, equivalent to 2/3 of the plant, and we are left with the “heart” of the radicchio to tickle our appetite.

    Radicchio-Rosso

    So what you are waiting for? Get out there to supermarkets or, even better, the local farmers’ markets to get your own and try a variety of recipes. My regular “pusher” could be founded at the “Mercatino dei produttori a km zero” in Montebelluna every Saturday morning, Mr. Dussin, or you could actually visit him directly on the field where all the radicchio’s process takes place and, I can promise you, radicchio never taste as sweet.

    If your style is more “ready-to-eat”, for a full immersion, you could follow few events entirely dedicated to the Radicchio spread out throughout the harvest season around Treviso and Venice:

    Fiori d’Inverno”, 12 events to discover and taste the radicchio and its varieties around many Piazze;

    La strada del radicchiothree themed routes through the countryside of Treviso and surrounding passing by farmers and local restaurants to get to know this product from the field to the final dish.

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