November 26, 2018
Brrr. Can you feel it? It’s COLD out there again. Winter is just about here and yes, it is time to start thinking about what’s going to be on the table for all those Christmas and New Year’s parties. Chefs - are you ready?
Luckily, even though some fall favorites are starting to trickle off, we’re celebrating the arrival of our favorite “flowers of winter” straight from the motherland: specialty chicories! Chicory is a bitter plant family that includes the likes of radicchio, frisee, and endive. It’s native to Italy, and while it’s now grown around the world, Italy still holds the title for the most OG of all chicory producers.
In fact, they’re the only ones to be certified by the EU to produce unique varieties that are so tied to their terrior that they can’t properly be produced anywhere outside that region (see our description of IGP below).
Growers in these specific regions of Italy have been perfectly performing the farming process for these high-intensity crops (they are HARD and therefore EXPENSIVE to produce) for centuries. Unlike radicchio from California, which is forced to maturity all year long, Italian growers stick to their natural seasonality: winter. They typically arrive in late November and stick around only through January or February, making them, in our opinion, even more worth savoring.
We work directly with importers to bring these gorgeous vegetables direct to the US market, flying them straight from Italy to the East Coast. Here are the varieties you need to know about:
ITALIAN ORIGIN: Treviso Precoce is native to Veneto in Northern Italy - specifically a town it owes its name to: Treviso. This region has the ideal climate and supply of fresh spring water for growing the highest quality radicchio. It's an early harvest crop (it comes into season before Treviso Tardivo), typically sown in July and harvested in September.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: The head of Treviso Precoce can vary in size, sometimes smaller, resembling the Belgian endive, other times larger, resembling romaine lettuce. Its head has a wide white rib and dark red or crimson, elongated ruffled leaves that overlap one another to form a tightly compact bunch. Treviso Precoce radicchio’s crisp sturdy leaves offer an earthy, mild, and bitter taste with sweet undertones.
HOW TO USE IT: Treviso Precoce radicchio’s size and shape make it a good product for halving and grilling. It’s also delicious when incorporated into pasta fillings, roasted, or caramelized. It can also be eaten fresh, too (making a nice addition to salads), and pairs well with prosciutto and winter citrus (like in-season blood oranges).
ITALIAN ORIGIN: Tardivo is the late-harvest version of Treviso Precoce, grown exclusively in three provinces of the Venice region: Treviso, Padua, and Venice. It's lovingly known as Fiori d’Inverno, Italian for “winter flower.”
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: Treviso Tardivo radicchio has unique, long, slender, curling burgundy leaves (comparable to a set of fingers) with white ribs. Its unique shape and coloring are achieved through a forced growth technique which takes place post-harvest. The leaves are crisp and have a strong bitter flavor.
HOW TO USE IT: Often served as a side dish either roasted or grilled and drizzled with olive oil, it can also be incorporated into risottos, red sauces, and stews, or baked into a strudel or quiche.
ITALIAN ORIGIN: IGP Castelfranco is grown exclusively in Treviso, a province in Venice, Italy. It can only be properly produced in very specific growing conditions. Sometimes it is referred to as the “rose of winter” because of its shape and particularly beautiful coloring.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: The head is shaped like butter lettuce, but not as compactly formed. Its leaves are buttercream to yellow in color and bespeckled with splatters of burgundy – one of its most desirable characteristic. Castelfranco has a tender, crunchy texture, and is one of the most mildly bitter varieties of radicchio.
HOW TO USE IT: It can be served raw in salads or used as a garnish to show off its unique patterned leaves. It also works well cooked into soups and risottos, topping pizzas, or served on its own as a side dish.
Radicchio Rosa del Veneto
ITALIAN ORIGIN: Also known as pink radicchio, Rosa del Veneto originated in Veneto. It gets its distinct, soft pink color from a particular cultivation procedure in which it is kept away from the sunlight - the cooler and darker the environment it is kept in, the pinker the color!
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: Its shape varies between that of the round chioggia to the elongated precoce variety, and is less compact. The head contains uniform leaves that are soft pink to light purple in color, depending on growing conditions. Its flavor is less bitter in comparison to other radicchio varieties tasting mild with sweet and sharp undertones. As pink radicchio cooks, it develops a tangy taste that consumers crave.
HOW TO USE IT: Pink radicchio can be substituted in raw or cooked applications where Radicchio Rosso di Chioggia is called for. It adds a lovely pop of color to fresh salads, and can also be sautéed, braised, grilled, or roasted.
ITALIAN ORIGIN: Puntarelle, also known as Catalogna, Chichorium Intybus, or Italian dandelion, is a famed Italian chicory originating in Romagna, Italy. Although it was once only found in Italy, this vegetable has made its way to other parts of the world, and today provides a much-desired taste to Mediterranean cuisine.
WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE: This long, spiked, chicory is famed for its inner core of plump, mild, and pleasantly crisp shoots. The head contains light green stems and dandelion shaped leaves in an elongated shape. Its crisp texture enhances its mild yet, enjoyable bitter taste. Reminiscent of dandelion greens, this vegetable has a flavor combination like the spiciness of arugula mixed with the sweetness of fennel.
HOW TO USE IT: Puntarelle is most often used in a traditional Roman salad bearing the same name (Puntarelle alla Romana) in which the leaves are stripped and soaked in cold water until they curl and become succulent. It can be consumed raw: serve in salads, and pair with other strong flavors such as anchovies, lemon juice, or capers. Or it can be cooked: use as a substitute for recipes that call for dandelion greens, and incorporate into Mediterranean dishes to enhance flavor and texture.
* Explanation of IGP
The designation "IGP" (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) refers to a European Union regulation that permits only products grown within a designated production zone to use the approved product name. Because of this, those purchasing the product can be assured that the product is genuine. This also allows for the product’s quality, reputation, and characteristics to be traced back to a specific geographical region. These IGP radicchios are grown in the regions of Italy known for first developing and perfecting them.
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