Radicchio is hard to say but not hard to enjoy. For the record it is pronounced rah-DEE-kee-oh. It is a member of the chicory family, and hales from Italy but is currently grown in New Jersey, California, Mexico and Italy. The most common varieties in the United States are radicchio di verona is grown very similarly to head lettuce, and is also shaped like a head of lettuce, however the coloring is a deep red with white ribbing, while radicchio di treviso looks like a red belgian endive. In Italy there are at lest 15 commonly found kinds of Radicchio and they aren’t just used in salads the are in everything! The flavor is mildly bitter. The hotter temperatures are when it is grown the stronger the flavor. So for a nice head of Radicchio you need a long cool growing season. Good news though, roasting and grilling tend to mellow and sweeten the flavor.
Radicchio should be stored in a sealed tupperware with damp paper towels in the coldest part of your refrigerator. According to the USDA at 32 – 34 degrees and 95% humidity the shelf life is an amazing 3 weeks from harvest! If your refrigerator does not contain that handy extra cold spot and it is looking not so crisp by the time you are ready to use it stand it in a cup or bowl of water and it will rehydrate itself (you may want to give the bottom a fresh cut first!)
The red in radicchio is from the same anthocyanin that the red corn we have been adoring contains so it is a great source of antioxidants. Also, it has been praised since Pliny the Elder wrote about it (or likely before!) as a blood purifier and sleep aid. Amazingly science backs this up with the intybin content which is a sedative. We have never fallen asleep at dinner with radicchio on the menu.
Radicchio contains more than a full days worth of vitamin K, and is a dieters dream with only 9.6 calories per raw cup shredded. It is very filling when eaten and has a glycemic load of 1, so works well for people who may not process sugar so well.
Radicchio is versatile and can be the star of the show, eaten raw with something as simple as olive oil and sea salt, or be part of the chorus line in complex salads, sauces for pasta, or roasted vegetable dishes. It is frequently served with feta or smoked mozzarella, and does well standing up to other strong flavors. Other vegetables that go well with it are arugula, beets, and fennel.