Radicchios are a cold weather crop and closely related to wild chicory. Compared to endives (another chicory member), radicchio is on the eccentric side of the chicory family. They’re robust and colorful, with a pronounced bitterness. All chicories mentioned below are classified as Cichoria intybus var. foliosum.
Radicchio is a chicory and grows in heads of bitter leaves.
It is in the daisy family, not the cabbage family.
The season for radicchio runs October through January.
There are many varieties of radicchio. Veneto, which grows in a tight round head with white and maroon leaves, is the most common. You may recognise white and maroon leaves of radicchio from mesclun lettuce mixes.
Belgian endive also belongs to the radicchio family.
Radicchio is served raw, braised, or grilled. Cooking it tames its bitter bite somewhat.
Common Types of Radicchio
The Veneto varieties are generally what we’re talking about when we say radicchio. They are six types of radicchio from Italy’s Veneto region, all named after their place of origin.
Of those, Chioggia is the most familiar and widely grown in the world, and it’s rarely called by its real name. Chioggia (kee-oh-jah) are the dense round heads of burgundy leaves with supple white midribs and veins that can be found in grocery stores any time of year, often labeled as “radicchio.”
Its bitterness is assertive but not abrasive. The midribs are supple and faintly velvety; the thin leaves have some heft and are faintly leathery (in a good way). Altogether they make for a satisfying bite.
Other, less common varieties include Catalognia (puntarelle), sugarloaf, Tardivo, Rosa del Veneto, and Grumolo.
Belgian endive is actually a member of the radicchio family! It’s known as witloof in many places outside of the US.
Substitutes for Radicchio
If you want the same splash of red in a mixed salad, finely shredded red cabbage will work. It’s also sturdy, holds up in wilted salads, and can be dressed far in advance. Red cabbage lacks the nuanced texture and bracing bitterness of radicchio, but it hits enough of the marks.
Flavor-wise, the fellow chicories Belgian endive, escarole, and curly endive (AKA frisée) are all good matches.
When Is Radicchio in Season?
October through January is peak radicchio season. Depending on where you are, you can get more or less time on either end of the range.
A note about radicchio season, from Cassie Woolhiser, a Seattle-based chicory advocate, co-founder of Chicory Week (a week-long city-wide celebration of bitter leafy vegetables!), and expert on all things radicchio: “Radicchio is available almost year-round in the grocery store, but like so many good things in life, it's worth waiting for the right time. Wherever you are, look for local radicchio and chicories starting in October. Cold weather not only makes radicchio sweeter, it encourages the gorgeous changes in color. The cold is key for flavor and appearance.”
How to Shop for Radicchio
What to look for in a head of radicchio? We asked Woolhiser for her expert advice.
“When shopping for radicchio, if you're buying a purple type like classic Chioggia, Treviso precoce, or Verona, feel for a dense head. For the variegated types (like Lusia or Castelfranco), they should be a bit lighter but still have some density.”
What to avoid? “Signs of a not good head of radicchio: too much green or too loose-leafed on a red type that should be tight and heavy; too much "fuzz" on leaves and ribs (that’s a sign of bolting).”
How to Store Radicchio
“Store [radicchio] in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator or cover them with a damp cloth in a container in the regular compartment of your refrigerator,” advises Woolhiser. “For being a leafy vegetable, they keep for a very long time (like, over a month!). But the longer they're in storage, the more water weight they lose. That's where wrapping them in plastic or damp fabric comes in.”
What to Do With Radicchio
- You can tear apart or shave the raw head and add it to any salad for a splash or color and hint of bitterness. However, if you get your hands on a whole head, it’s fun to use it in a manner that highlights its color and personality.
- Grilling heads of radicchio (halved or quartered) adds a depth and brings out a hint of sweetness. Or scatter roughly chopped leaves over a sauceless pizza crust brushed with olive oil before baking; the creamy cheese will be its foil.
- Try shaving radicchio thinly and adding it to wilted salads or salads that include dried or fresh fruit to offset its bitterness.
- For radicchio that’s a bit past its prime, a soak in ice water can perk it right up. Or try wilting it in a skillet or adding it to soups in their very last moments of simmering.
Taming the Bitter Taste
A soak in icy water will tame the bitterness of radicchio.
Recipes to Make With Radicchio
- Radicchio Salad With Citrus
- Swiss Chard and Radicchio
- Fennel, Radicchio, and Endive Salad
- Grilled Radicchio Salad
- Roasted Butternut Squash, Radicchio, and Onion
Why Choose Radicchio
Woolhiser gave us some insight about what makes radicchio such a sustainable choice of fresh, leafy greens in the colder months.
“[Radicchio] are a very low-input crop and they grow exceptionally well in the Northwestern US, and more and more growers on the east coast are also growing radicchio each fall/winter. To have an option for a regional leafy vegetable all winter long saves fuel (from shipping) and other resources, especially when leafy greens are coming to the Northwest and Northeast from dry and hot places like Arizona and California.”