Hey folks, didn’t you hear? Pink is the new green. At least when it comes to one of the hottest trends in the produce department in 2018. Out with the old and in with the Italian Radicchio, we like to say! While you may already be familiar with regular radicchio, a popular salad green in its own right, Italian Radicchio are cultivated through special growth techniques that ensure these unique varieties. The production is quite lengthy and labor intensive with stages that happen both in the field and then in complete darkness for several weeks.
While regular radicchio is available year round, these Italian varieties are late bloomers and in season from late winter to early spring in the months of December to March. We’re talking about four varieties today: Rosa di Padova, Rosso Tardivo, Varigeto and La Rosa di Veneto, all of which originate from Italy and has recently made a big splash in the US markets and kitchens alike.
Mirror mirror, on the wall. Who is the fairest radicchio of them all? That may just have to be the Rosa di Padova variety with its broad, deep scarlet leaves shaped just like a beautiful bloomed red rose. The leaves of this variety have a strong, peppery bite when eaten raw. The Rosa di Padova adds gorgeous color and crunchy texture when featured in a salad. However, this variety is also delicious sauteed, braised, grilled or roasted as the cooking process does bring out its characteristic tangy flavor.
Have you encountered radicchio that looked like this? Rosso Tardivo is highly revered in Italy and is known as one of the most popular gourmet specialties. The coloring may look similar to regular radicchio rosso but you will notice its unusual compact shape. Its elongated finger-like maroon leaves curve towards a broad white center rib similar to that of romaine. You can thank its complicated cultivation process for this achievement. This slightly bitter and nutty variety is a tad bolder in flavor than regular radicchio. It also holds a little more moisture and has slightly more tender leaves.
No, this is not a head of lettuce. Varigeto Radicchio is another distinct-looking variety with its delicate, crinkly yellow leaves speckled with spots of dark red. This variety requires a slightly different growing method from other radicchios and is harvested with a taproot in an environment of extremely high humidity and minimal light. This results in its special pale coloring and delectable gentle bite, compared to other more bold, peppery varieties.
Look familiar? The La Rosa di Veneto has been making an appearance all over Instagram from chefs, grocers and restauranteurs as seen on Eater New York. They call it pink lettuce but like the rest of its Italian varietal family, it is actually considered chicory. The slightly sweet and delicately bitter flavor is more understated than regular radicchio and its cousin, Rosso Tardivo. Available during the late winter and early spring months, La Rosa di Veneto adds a gorgeous splash of color to any dish.
Such beauty should indeed be celebrated. Radicchio is popular for adding color, dimension and crunch into salads. If you manage to get your hands on some Italian Radicchio while they are still in season, highlight them as part of a platter such as in this gorgeous Sunset Salad pictured here. Not only do all four varieties photograph beautifully, they vary in taste and texture as well. The slightly sweet, bitter taste of the radicchio pairs beautifully with tart fruits such as pomegranates and Cara Cara oranges or grapefruits. Add a salty and savory dressing for an exquisite balance of flavors.
Pretty in pink, Italian radicchio is also incredibly delectable on spread out onto flatbread. In fact, you can wow your guests at your next party or gathering with this gorgeous homemade pizza. Word of warning though, this masterpiece may look a little too pretty to eat. Choose different varieties of radicchio to feature and create this striking display of different hues. Then pair with your favorite cheeses, nuts or dried fruits to mellow out the bitter flavors. As a serving suggestion, gorgonzola, blue cheese , balsamic vinegar, citrus or pecans all complement radicchio beautifully.
Which one of these Italian Radicchio varieties appeals to you the most? What other delicious recipes would you make with them?