Like rhubarb at this time of year, Italian radicchio is a forced crop that has distinctive claret and white leaves. The less light the vegetable has seen the deeper the red coloured tips of the leaf. It has a strong, bittersweet taste and is related to the chicory family. These “bitter principles” are said to be beneficial to the liver.
Shaped like a pert mini cabbage, it’s mainly used in salads where its tart flavour and crisp texture contrasts well with milder leaves such as rocket. Look out for the seasonal Tardivo variety of Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, which has locally protected status and comes from a small town in North-East Italy.
The tougher winter leaves and the heads can be grilled, braised with balsamic vinegar or shredded and wilted into pasta or risotto. The bitterness of radicchio nicely complements both sweet and creamy ingredients. Try baked figs, goat’s cheese and radicchio or penne with pancetta, mascarpone and radicchio.