Depending on where you live in Australia red radicchio has only been popular in Australian households in the last ten years. Even if you have experienced radicchio in a restaurant, you have probably eaten it raw and most likely in a salad, but you can also cook radicchio. Just like any other leafy vegetable it can be grilled, braised, baked, or sautéed. I particularly like to eat grilled radicchio on polenta with a little tomato salsa, it is great sautéed in a risotto, or a pasta dish.
In Australia it is relatively easy to buy round or the elongated red radicchio.
One of my favourite ways is to enjoy it with pasta .
Sauté some Italian pork and fennel sausages (out of their skins) in a little extra virgin olive oil, then add some radicchio cut into slices. Sauté it while moving it about until the sausage meat is cooked. Add a dash of wine and evaporate it. Use red or white wine as the colour from the cooked radicchio can be quite dark.
I know a few people who do not like radicchio because it is bitter and when it is cooked the bitter taste intensifies. The bitterness is perfect as a foil for fatty dishes.
Roasted radicchio and pan fried radicchio is very easy to prepare.
I prefer to cook my radicchio on the stove because I feel more in control.
Cut a large radicchio into quarters.
Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a frypan that has reasonably substantial sides, add the radicchio to the hot oil, add salt, a little rosemary and thyme and watch it wilt. Turn it over once and towards the end add a little balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of citrus marmalade. The marmalade is home made so it is not too sweet.
It will be cooked in about 10 minutes.
It was the accompaniment to pan fried duck breast so you can see why these flavours go well together.
It may not look appealing (maybe as cooked red cabbage) but it tastes good.
Although my radicchio was cooked plainly, it is easily seen that adding different ingredients, will modify the taste. Try: nuts, a few slices of sautéed onions , bay leaves, caraway or fennel seeds, crisp fried pancetta, a little blue cheese at the end. It is a versatile dish.
The next day, the leftover radicchio made a nice topping for some toasted bread.
There was a cacciatore in the fridge and this, and the combination the radicchio worked well. Any pork or beef salumi, smoked fish or meat and a strong tasting cheese is perfect.
Once again, it does not look like much, but gosh, it was good.
When I was a child and had a tummy ache my mother used to give me an infusion of chamomile – and I bet that many other Italian children experienced the same remedy. I was also given it when I could not sleep and she rinsed my hair with chamomile – it was supposed to keep it fair and make it shiny. Chamomile was a magic herb.
My father asserted that a canarino (canary) was better. It is made by boiling lemon peel in water. This concoction was another multi-purpose panacea used for tummy aches, nausea, insomnia, colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers when you felt cold and shivery. He also would share hi Dutch salted liquorice with me – aniseed and fennel are renown for assisting digestion.
My father’s sister who lives in Sicily is a great advocate for the healing and nutritive properties of carob. She claims it cures respiratory tract infections and it treats diarrhoea.
I was told that the more bitter the green, the better it was for my liver; the stimulation of bile flow was important to break down fats.
My family always ate large quantities of bitter greens – all the different types of radicchio (we lived in Trieste where it was plentiful). The photo above: radicchio Triestino – a very small leafed variety of radicchio.
There were different types of chicory, Belgium endives (whitlof), rocket, escarole, cardoons and globe artichokes. Vegetables that have strong sulphur smells like cime di rapa or cime di rape, Brussel sprouts and radishes were also favourites.
When we visited Sicily, our relatives made sure to feed us edible weeds (erbe spontanie) – matalufo, agghiti (in Ragusa’s dialect), bitter chicory, different varieties of mustard greens and brassicas, wild rocket, puntarelle, wild fennel fronds and wild asparagus – the two types of wild asparagus are particularly bitter. Photos below and above: wild greens in Sicilian markets.
So, as you can see, because of my history and my Italian culture I had my digestive health covered.
As an adult, I had an inherent appreciation of bitter flavours and much appreciated an Amaro, not just because I liked the taste but because I believed that it aids digestion.
Amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is usually drunk as a digestive before a meal (an aperitivo) or after meals (a digestivo). There are many local and regional versions of these alcoholic beverages – examples of some well-known Amari are Aperol, Averna, Cynar and Fernet-Branca.
These bitter, alcoholic beverages are usually referred to as being herb based, but they are made of various and numerous vegetables, fruit, berries, bark, flowers, herbs, roots and spices macerated in alcohol diluted with water to obtain the desired gradation. They are also sweetened and range from bittersweet to intensely bitter.
The oldest recipes for herb-based beverages were usually formulated by pharmacists, botanists, and enthusiasts, many in monasteries and convents. The recipes have been developed over time by wine and spirit companies and the alcohol content of Amari varies between 11% and 40%.
Restaurants in Italy may offer a dozen selections of Amari, especially after a meal, but unfortunately, Amari are not beneficial aids to digestion – the beneficial properties of the herbs are reduced or eliminated and the higher the alcohol content, the slower the breakdown of food.
If you want to eat more, it makes sense to drink an Amaro as an aperitivo – the bitter flavours may stimulate the taste buds and increase the secretion of saliva and gastric juices.
Aperol has an alcohol content of 11%—less than half that of Campari. Averna is considered an excellent digestive liqueur, but the alcohol content is 29%, Ramazzotti is 30% and Fernet is 40%.
Aniseed liqueur is distilled from the fruit of the green aniseed plant along with other aromatic ingredients – but Sanbuca is 48% alcohol.
If we really wish to help our digestion after a meal, we may be better off with the simple home-made infusions. Popular home-made infusions, apart from chamomile, often contain fennel seeds, peppermint, sage, ginger and rosemary.
I still enjoy my bitter greens and since living in Australia I have broadened the range of bitter greens that I eat – watercress, dandelions, the wide range of Asian mustard greens and varieties of kale and frisée.
You must admit the combination above sounds pretty good – the contrasts of flavours, differences in textures, the bitter taste with the sweet.
You probably have eaten grilled radicchio. I was mentioning to friends that my mother was cooking grilled radicchio back in the 80’s and was presenting it with a tomato salsa and polenta. And now in 2016, I have been seeing it and eating it once again, both in Australia and in Italy.
The photo below was taken in a restaurant in Rome in June. I ate it as a contorno (a vegetable side dish).
Instead of grilling the radicchio I pan fried it – easier and less smelly.
I wanted a variety of ingredients so I poached some Rosella pears in red wine, pepper corns, a dash or red vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar.
Next beetroot. I really enjoy the sweetness of beetroot with radicchio in a salad at any time, so why not ad it to a lightly sautéed radicchio.
I love Gorgonzola dolce. Cheese pairs well with walnuts and so I added these components as well.
It did not take long to prepare. I poached the pears early in the day so as to leave them steeping in the poaching liquid and the rest was prepared in about 30 minutes. I cooked the beetroot the day before and kept it in the fridge. My type of cooking these days….. especially if this was the entrée and I had three more courses to prepare.
For 4 people
Quantities for gorgonzola and walnuts to taste.
Cubed gorgonzola dolce – creamier, less sharp than straight Gorgonzola.
Walnuts, and make sure that they are not rancid.
Cooked beetroot…at least one per person.
2 pears – not soft – I ended up only using 1 – a quarter on each plate
2 cups dry red wine
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon of sugar
about 10 black pepper corns
1 pinch of salt
Combine the wine, vinegar and spices in a small saucepan which will hold the pears and almost- if not entirely- cover them. Cook pears cut into quarters in the liquid, lid on and poach on low heat. I still wanted some crunch and cooked them for about 30 min.
Leave pears in poaching liquid to cool and until you wish to use them.
1 large round head of radicchio, quartered, so that each quarter has a bit of the stem end holding it together. I also used satay skewer to ensure that it stayed together. If using the Treviso vaviety of radicchio ( long shape) you may need 2 heads and cut it in half.
¼ cup olive oil
salt and black pepper
Lightly sauté the radicchio in the oil over moderate heat uncovered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn once. I did not want the radicchio cooked- I wanted a warm salad with radicchio that was softened on the outer.
Remove the radicchio. Distribute onto separate plates.
Drain/ strain the pears and use that wine/liquid to add to the pan. Discard the spices. Add the beetroot (to warm and to glaze). Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid to about half the quantity.
To serve distribute pears and beetroot . Dribble liquid on the radicchio. Scatter gorgonzola and walnuts on top.
or Radicchio Triestino, a small-soft-leaf radicchio.
My father grew Radicchio Triestino in his Adelaide garden but I have never seen it for sale in Australia.
These are some of the salad vegetables I am able to purchase at the Queen Victoria Market. Notice the pale coloured beetroot (I also cook the leaves like spinach). The beetroot I ate in Trieste was always pale in colour.
Next to the red radicchio is the head of speckled, pale radicchio (radicchio biondo= blonde/blond).
Fennel and the baby cabbage are also suitable salad vegetables, as is rocket – rucola in Triestine.
In my fridge you will always find some green vegetables that can be used in salads. I grow herbs on my balcony but regretfully do not have room for salad greens. My history of eating salads goes back a long way.
The best salads that I ate as a child in Italy were made from green leaves. In Trieste, it was made with very young leaves of different types of radicchi (plural of radicchio) especially the radicchio biondo triestino, together with mataviltz (the lamb’s lettuce) and rucola (aurugola/rocket/roquette). These were sold by the handful in the Trieste market and wrapped in cones of brown paper.
My father grew these greens in Australia, a friend having smuggled seeds inside of his coat lining on one of his trips back from Trieste. You will be pleased to know that these seeds are now widely available in Australia.
When I used to visit Sicily as a child we talked about the different green leaves we ate in Trieste, but the relatives were not familiar with these.
They ate salads made from young, wild cicoria (chicory) or cicorino (the ino signifying small) and indivia (escarole/endives), Roman Batavia, curly endive and frisee lettuces were also popular – these lettuces are available in Australia. Roman Batavia has frilly leaves – it is crunchy and maintains its crispness. I have also seen it labelled as Roman lettuce, and this is confusing because cos is often called by this name. Frisee has a spiky and firm leaf, which is mildly bitter – it is a form of chicory.
In Ragusa where my father’s family come from, the inside leaves of green cabbage are torn into bite-sized pieces and dressed with oil, salt, pepper and lemon. I did not experience this elsewhere in Sicily.
I making the most of the wonderful winter greens and use their centre in salads and braise their outer leaves (first wilted/ steamed in a little water then tossed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and chilli).
Photographer Graeme Gillies, food stylist Fiona Rigg. Both worked on my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking
INGREDIENTS and PROCESSES
Select a variety of greens. Combine sweet, subtle, or bitter flavours, and different textures – the tender light green leaves found in the centre of chicory, or endives and escarole, different types of lettuces, the young, pale-green stalks found in the centre of celery. I do use fennel as well.
I like to include young Nasturtium leaves and flowers, (which are around at this time of year) or watercress (crescione d’acqua), but once again, this is not traditional, although my father told me that the women in Sicily who took their washing to the river ate watercress – this is another instance of Sicilians enjoying and using what the land provides.
A single leaf salad made with chicory (slightly bitter taste) and slices of sweet oranges are a good alliance and an acceptable modern Sicilian combination.
Toss the salad when ready to serve with a dressing made of quality extra virgin olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper (one-third vinegar, two-thirds oil).
Surprisingly I bought this head of radicchio this week. Although it is spring and nearly the end of October in Melbourne, we have been experiencing winter temperatures and this has prolonged the season for radicchio – it prefers cooler temperatures and is generally at its best from May to September. My vendor says that radicchio is now available throughout the year – this should please me, but it does not. How can a winter vegetable grow in a different season or how far does it have to travel to get here.
Let’s begin to discuss radicchio with the correct pronunciation. The sound of ‘ch’ in the Italian language and unlike the English sound, is pronounced as k.
Secondly, radicchio is a northern Italian vegetable originating from the Veneto region and Italian recipes, which include radicchio (like when cooked as in a risotto) are also northern Italian recipes.
This type of radicchio in the picture is from Treviso, a city that it is closer to Venice than Trieste where I lived as a child. Trieste is in the neighbouring region to the Veneto and it is called Friuli Venezia Giulia, which is on the furthest limit of the Italian northeast, near the Slovenian border. Various types of radicchio are cultivated in Trieste as well, varieties like the green biondissima that needs to be picked when very small and does not form a head. My father used to grow this variety in his home garden in Adelaide; I have seen the seeds in Australia, but I doubt if it will ever be sold as a salad leaf in Australia – a great pity.
Men buying seeds in Palermo – photo courtesy of a generous reader of my blog
I have been to Sicily many times and as a young person, I never saw radicchio, nor were my Sicilian relatives familiar with it, but for the last two years I have seen the Treviso variety of radicchio in a couple of modern Sicilian restaurants – usually used more for a decorative purpose, for example, a deep red leaf accompanying an octopus salad. The Sicilians import radicchio from the north; it is far too hot in Sicily to grow it and considered foreign in Sicilian cuisine.
Enough reminiscing, it is time for a recipe.
Radicchio can be cooked and there was one way that my mother used to prepare the large heads of Treviso radicchio, which I really like. The recipe may be a bit wintery, but eaten outside in the sunshine with a glass of rose sounds spring- like to me.
INGREDIENTS AND PROCESSES
Select ½ -1 head of large radicchio per person (thin heads will char).
Cut large heads of radicchio in half lengthwise, sprinkle with salt and a little extra virgin olive oil and then grill on moderate heat .
It is then and presented with grilled polenta and a little fresh tomato salsa. The outer leaves will turn brown and the core will remain moist and will soften; it may take 15 -20 minutes with a couple of rotations and a little more oil.
Cooked polenta can be cut into a thick slice and also be grilled on the same BBQ grill or plate. See recipe in post:
Sprinkle the slice of polenta with oil and salt before grilling. Polenta is also a northern Italian ingredient.
The tomato salsa is easily made.
Make a tomato salsa with the ¼- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, peeled chopped tomatoes (800-1k can in winter, fresh tomatoes in summer) and a few leaves of basil, a little salt and pepper.
Mix the ingredients together and allow the sauce to reduce – uncovered – to a cream like consistency. Take off the heat.
Present a slice of polenta, the grilled radicchio and a splash of tomato salsa on each plate – the salsa will be sweet (and red) but have some tartness, the radicchio will be bitter (and a dark red- brown colour) and the polenta will have texture (and yellow).
If you would like a more substantial dish, a little grilled fish would not go astray.