Radicchio, or Italian/red chicory, as it’s sometimes called, is a hardy cool-season vegetable that’s resistant to light frost and disease. Its deep purple leaves provide a splash of color during monotone winter months. And that flavor! Radicchio is known for its sharp, bitter taste, but it’s actually full of sweet undertones. Throwing a dash of salt on those leaves brings out this veggie’s innate sweetness; radicchio has a high sugar content that’s attributed to a chemical reaction as a result of exposure to cool temperatures. If you want your radicchio to please palates, make sure it’s planted in time to weather a few light frosts.
If you’re busy harvesting radicchio from fall planting season, we recommend serving with balsamic vinegar for a bitter-sweet flavor duo. If you’re bored of salads, try baking, sautéing, or flouring and frying individual leaves. You can mix it with pasta, throw it in a soup, or add it to an omelet. It’s also yummy when served with prosciutto, salami or Italian cheeses of any kind.
Didn’t jump on the radicchio bandwagon in time to harvest this winter? There’s still time to plant seeds and enjoy a spring and summer harvest. If you go the spring-planting route, here’s what you should know:
- Seeds should be planted up to 4 weeks before your last expected frost. Make sure your radicchio is exposed to these cooler temps in order to guarantee rich flavor come harvest time!
- Make sure to work the soil where your seeds will go in, and add plenty of compost. This keeps moisture locked in the soil. Plant seeds about 1/4 inch beneath the surface, and space each individual plant about 8-12 inches apart.
- Lightly water your plants on a regular basis. The idea is to keep them well-hydrated but never flooded. 1-1.5 inches of water per week should be just right. Radicchio that doesn’t receive enough moisture will wind up extra-bitter and uneven once it’s harvested.
- No space in the garden? Radicchio thrives in a container garden. Just fill pots with a mixture of compost and potting soil, and space out plants 8 inches apart in containers. Water regularly and put down some low-nitrogen fertilizer about a month after planting to make sure they receive lots of nutrients!
- It will take about 60-80 days for your radicchio to be ready to harvest. You’ll know a plant is ready when the head becomes firm, at which point you can chop it off at ground level. Make sure you harvest before temperatures heat up and turn your radicchio to seed!
- A freshly harvested head of radicchio will last in your fridge about two weeks; individual leaves can be stored in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel, and will be fresh to eat for about 5 days.