Radicchio resembles a petite head of red cabbage producing variegated dark, burgundy leaves with contrasting white ribs. Growing from orange to grapefruit size and easy to peel, the smooth, crisp leaves offer a bitter flavor with a hint of spice. When cooked the vibrant burgundy color of the leaves fades to a deep brown hue, its bitter flavor is mellowed and rather takes on a subtle sweetness. Only occasionally is this type of chicory given a forced second growth, when utilized though this method will yield a Radicchio with a waxier sheen on its exterior leaves.
Radicchio is available year-round with a peak season mid-winter to early spring.
Cooking Radicchio brings out the vegetable’s natural sweetness but it can also be served fresh. It can be chopped and sauteed or halved and grilled. Fresh leaves are sturdy enough to be used whole as a cup or wrap. In Italy Radicchio is classically added to risottos and tomato sauces or simply grilled and dressed in olive oil. The bitter flavor marries well with sweet, sour, fatty and salty accompaniments such as citrus, pear, pomegranate, tomato, balsamic vinegar, walnut oil, anchovies, cream based dressings and sauces, candied pecans, salted meats such as bacon and salami, black pepper and provolone, parmesan and gorgonzola cheeses. To store, keep dry and refrigerate for one to two weeks.