Radicchio, a type of chicory, is a flavorful and versatile fall vegetable. Most people are familiar with the round red radicchio known as Rosa di Chioggia, but there are many other kinds of radicchio, ranging in flavor from mild to robust. Radicchio originates in the Veneto region of Italy, where many of the towns are known for their particular kind.
There is the variegated radicchio, whose large leaves are green with red flecks from Castelfranco; the elongated red radicchio di Treviso, which resembles a small romaine lettuce; and our families’ favorite, the beautiful and deliciously nutty, almost sweet, tardivo di Treviso, whose narrow leaves curl at the top. There are also some green leafy radicchios that add a wonderful mildly bitter flavor to salads.
Fall is one of my favorite times of year to visit Italy’s vegetable markets. Our students are amazed by the bounty and variety as we lead them through the crowded pathways of the Padua market. We point out how radicchio is not only used in salads, but also cooked in a variety of dishes
One of our favorite methods is to make a pasta sauce with radicchio. When it is cooked, radicchio provides a rich deep flavor to a pasta sauce, and loses some of its bitter flavor. This is a great fall dish that is perfect before a pan-roasted meat as part of a multi-course meal. We often eat by itself, followed by a salad.
Penne with Radicchio
From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan
Serves 4 people
1/2 large sweet yellow onion
3 tablespoons butter
3 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/8” thick
1 pound radicchio
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley
1 pound penne (fusilli would also be good here)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
2. Peel the onion and finely chop it. Put the butter inn a 12” skillet and place over medium high heat. When the butter begins to melt, add the onion and sauté until the onion turns to a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.
3. While the onion is sautéing, cut the pancetta into narrow strips about 1” long. Remove any bruised leaves from the radicchio, cut it in half lengthwise and cut off the bottom of the root. Finely shred the radicchio.
4. When the onion is done, add the pancetta and cook until it loses its raw color 1-2 minutes. Add the radicchio and season with salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 cup water, lower the heat to medium, and cover the pan. Cook until the radicchio is very tender, about 20 minutes. Check it periodically and add more water if the liquid evaporates before the radicchio is tender.
5. While the radicchio is cooking, finely chop enough parsley to measure about 1 tablespoon.
6. After the radicchio has been cooking for at least 15 minutes, add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling pasta water, put in the penne, and stir well. Cook until al dente.
7. When the radicchio is tender, uncover the pan, raise the heat and let any remaining moisture evaporate. Add the cream and parsley and cook until the cream has thickened and reduced by about one third.
8. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve at once.