Radicchio 101 – The Basics

Radicchio 101 – The Basics

About Radicchio
Radicchio is a perennial plant usually grown as an annual. It is a member of the Asteraceae family, which is a subspecies of chicory. Radicchio originated in northern Italy in about the 16th century. It is a low-growing plant that is normally grown in cooler weather. Radicchio is mostly grown in Italy, followed by southern France, and lesser amounts in some parts of California, New Jersey, and Mexico.

Radicchio looks similar to a small head of red cabbage with variegated dark burgundy leaves with white ribs. There are a variety of types of radicchio plants that grow in various shapes, colors, and sizes. The most commonly grown variety is what we usually find in supermarkets, with a round shape and variegated burgundy leaves. It has smooth, crisp leaves with a somewhat bitter flavor and a hint of spice. When cooked, the burgundy color changes to a deep brown hue, and the bitter flavor mellows and takes on a subtle sweetness.

Nutrition and Health Benefits
Radicchio is rich in Vitamin K, with a 2-cup serving of raw radicchio providing 170% of the daily recommended intake! Radicchio also supplies copper, Vitamin C, zinc, potassium, Vitamin B6, iron, and phosphorus, along with a little fiber and protein. Two cups of raw radicchio have only 20 calories.

High in Antioxidants. The color of radicchio gives us a hint that it contains a lot of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins. Antioxidants are known to help fight cellular damage from harmful free radicals. Such damage can lead to cancer, heart disease, digestive issues, and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, in the July 2015 edition of the journal Molecules, researchers found that the antioxidants in radicchio fought a common liver cancer cell known as Hep-G2. Also, they found that radicchios that were grown organically, without being exposed to pesticides at the time of fertilization, had more of those antioxidants than those that were grown conventionally. If you are battling liver cancer, opting for organic radicchio may be helpful to you.

Brain Health and Memory. Vitamin K appears to play a role in cognition, especially as people age. In a review of current evidence reported in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, researchers found that higher blood levels of Vitamin K were associated with better memory in healthy older adults. In adults age 65 years and older, there was a direct correlation between low Vitamin K intake and deteriorated cognitive ability.

In another study involving 320 individuals, aged 70-85, researchers found those with higher Vitamin K levels performed better in memory tests than those with lower levels. It appears that including Vitamin K-rich foods, such as radicchio, in the diet on a regular basis can help to preserve memory and brain function as we age.

Bone Health and Blood Clotting. Since radicchio is high in Vitamin K, including it in your diet regularly can help to promote bone health by regulating the use of calcium in the body. Vitamin K is also an important factor used in blood clotting. So, including Vitamin K-rich foods in the diet regularly can help maintain our bones and teeth, while also helping to also maintain our cardiovascular system.

Important Note! If you are taking blood-thinning medications such as Warfarin, it is important to consult with your doctor before increasing your intake of Vitamin K-rich foods. Since such foods can affect blood clotting, they may interfere with your medication, altering your prothrombin time. Your medication dosage may need to be altered when increasing your intake of such foods on a regular basis.

Blood Pressure Management. Potassium is an important electrolyte in the management of fluids throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system. With radicchio supplying a good amount of potassium, including it in the diet as often as possible can help the body to lower blood pressure, reducing strain on the cardiovascular system.

Eye Health. Radicchio has an abundant amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, two of its many antioxidants. These two compounds have been widely researched for their effects on eye health, especially in preventing macular degeneration and the development of cataracts. So, eating radicchio on a regular basis can help to preserve your eye health, especially as you age.

How to Select Radicchio
Choose firm heads that are crisp, fresh, and full-colored. Avoid those with brown or wilted leaves, cracks, or damage of any sort. Since radicchio is a cool-weather plant, it is at its best in the cooler months.

How to Store Radicchio
Store unwashed radicchio wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. If it becomes wilted, soak the leaves in a bowl of cold water to crisp them back up. Depending upon how long the radicchio has been harvested, it should keep anywhere from 3 days to three weeks in the refrigerator. So, it’s best to use it as soon as you can.

How to Prepare Radicchio
To prepare radicchio, wash it well under cold water. Then remove the core by cutting it out in a cone shape. The head may then be cut in half or quartered, shredded, or separated by removing individual leaves. Alternatively, you could simply remove the leaves individually if you just need a few for a salad or a similar recipe.

Radicchio may be used raw or cooked. Cooking radicchio brings out its natural sweetness. It can be chopped and sautéed, or cut in half and grilled.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Radicchio
* The bitter flavor of radicchio pairs well with sweet, sour (acidic), fatty, and salty accompaniments. These flavorings will help reduce the bitterness of radicchio. Try pairing it with citrus fruits, pear, pomegranate, tomato, balsamic vinegar, walnut oil, anchovies, cream-based dressings and sauces, candied pecans, salted meats (like bacon), black pepper and provolone, or Parmesan or gorgonzola cheeses.

* Cut radicchio in half, brush it with some olive oil, then grill it. Finish it with a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, or even honey.

* Try a salad with radicchio, mozzarella cheese, mango chunks, and basil.

* Add radicchio to a mixed green salad dressed with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. The acid in the dressing will help curb any bitterness in the radicchio.

* Try using radicchio as a shell for serving chicken, tuna, seafood, potato, rice, or fruit salad.

* Cut radicchio into wedges, brush with olive oil and top with cheese. Broil it until the leaves turn reddish-brown and serve.

* Add radicchio to soups, rice, legumes, pasta dishes, omelets, and tofu.

* Try sautéed radicchio with caramelized onions. The act of sautéing the radicchio, combined with the sweetness of the caramelized onions will improve the flavor, neutralizing the bitterness of the radicchio.

* If a recipe calls for radicchio and you don’t have any, you can substitute Belgian endive, curly endive, escarole, arugula, watercress, or red oak-leaf lettuce (which is also less bitter).

* It is not advisable to freeze radicchio. It will lose its flavor and be very bland after having been frozen. Also, radicchio will lose a lot of its nutritional value when it is frozen.

Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Radicchio
Basil, bay leaf, capers, chicory, chili pepper flakes, fennel seeds, garlic, horseradish, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, salt, thyme

Foods That Go Well with Radicchio
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans (in general, esp. cannellini, white), beef, chicken, chickpeas, eggs, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, sausage, seafood, walnuts

Vegetables: Arugula, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery root, chives, endive, escarole, fennel, greens (all types), lettuce, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radishes, shallots, spinach, squash (winter), tomatoes, watercress

Fruits: Apples, figs, fruit (in general, including dried), grapefruit, lemon, lime, mango, olives, orange, pears

Grains and Grain Products: Breadcrumbs, grains (in general), pasta, polenta, rice, wild rice

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (i.e., Asiago, blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, feta, fontina, goat, Gruyère, mozzarella, Parmesan, pecorino, ricotta), sour cream

Other Foods: Honey, mustard (prepared), oil (i.e., corn, hazelnut, nut, olive, peanut, pumpkin seed, walnut), soy sauce, stock, tamari, vinegar (i.e., balsamic, cider, fruit, red wine, sherry), wine (esp. dry white), Worcestershire sauce

Radicchio has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Egg dishes, gratins, Italian cuisine, omelets, pasta dishes, pizza, risottos, salads (i.e., grain, mixed greens), soups, stews

Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Radicchio
Add radicchio to any of the following combinations…

Apples + Fennel
Arugula + Endive
Balsamic Vinegar + Garlic + Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar + Mushrooms + Parmesan Cheese [in risotto]
Beets + Blue Cheese + Walnut Oil + Walnuts
Breadcrumbs + Hard-Boiled Egg + Parsley
Breadcrumbs + Parmesan Cheese
Cheese (i.e., Asiago, blue, goat) + Fruit (i.e., dried cranberries, oranges, pears) + Nuts (i.e.,
hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts)
Fennel + Olive Oil + Orange + Pear
Fennel + Olive Oil + Red Wine Vinegar
Garlic + Olive Oil + Parmesan Cheese + White Beans
Garlic + Parsley + Pasta + Ricotta Cheese
Gorgonzola Cheese + Mushrooms
Lemon + Pasta

Recipe Links
36 Radicchio Recipes That Are Ridiculously Good https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/13-ways-to-love-radicchio-gallery

Radicchio, Shaved Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/-radicchio-shaved-fennel-and-pomegranate-salad-51254420

Winter Slaw with Red Pears and Pumpkin Seeds https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/winter-slaw-with-red-pears-and-pumpkin-seeds

Bitter Greens with Carrots, Turnips, and Oranges https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/bitter-greens-with-carrots-turnips-and-oranges

Citrus Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/citrus-salad-with-fennel-vinaigrette-51214510

Orzo Salad https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/orzo-salad-388789

Mixed Greens with Mustard Dressing https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/mixed-greens-with-mustard-dressing-364091

Rainbow Chard and Radicchio Sauté https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/rainbow-chard-and-radicchio-saute-362533

Penne with Radicchio, Spinach, and Bacon https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/penne-with-radicchio-spinach-and-bacon-241093

Shaved Cauliflower and Radicchio Salad https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/shaved-cauliflower-and-radicchio-salad-388668

Sautéed Radicchio https://www.thespruceeats.com/sauteed-radicchio-recipe-2217562

An Autumn Salad https://food52.com/recipes/18974-an-autumn-salad

Sesame Chicken with Radicchio and Orange Salad https://food52.com/recipes/76947-sesame-chicken-with-radicchio-orange-salad

Salad with Caramelized Fennel and Apples https://food52.com/recipes/8756-salad-with-caramelized-fennel-and-apples

Bittersweet Roasted Radicchio with Ricotta and Dates https://food52.com/recipes/68643-bittersweet-roasted-radicchio-with-ricotta-dates

16 Stellar Ways to Use Radicchio https://food52.com/blog/11879-radicchio-and-our-11-favorite-ways-to-use-it

10 Recipes Starring Radicchio https://www.lacucinaitaliana.com/italian-food/how-to-cook/recipes-radicchio

Grilled Polenta and Radicchio with Balsamic Drizzle https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/grilled-polenta-and-radicchio-balsamic-drizzle

















Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.

Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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