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      Il radicchio – the edible flower

      Feb. 21, 2013

      Il radicchio di Treviso was on many people’s tables during this past Christmas holiday, as a main course or as a tasty appetizer. But what makes this leaf that belongs to the chicory family [Cichorium Intubus] so popular and sought after? Perhaps it is the aura of mystery that surrounds its origins. Or perhaps it is the fact that this chicory, also known as red chicory or Italian chicory, only grows, with success, in the Veneto region, all the other attempts at cultivating it, in Italy and abroad, having not reached the same product quality.

      If you ask old farmers they would tell you that the birthplace of radicchio is the town of Dosson di Casier, in the province of Treviso. Indeed, the legend says that it was a group of birds that brought with them the seeds and dropped them on the bell tower of the church of Dosson. Another version tells of monks finding and growing this seed. Others say the radicchio is indigenous to the area, growing in ditches or along side the vegetable gardens until someone thought it could be grown to be eaten.

      There are two main kinds of radicchio di Treviso, the precoce and the tardivo. The precoce is available from the month of September onwards. Its leaves are broad and long, red on the outside and white along the centre. The tardivo kind, also known as spadone di Treviso, is available from November. This type of radicchio has thinner leaves than the precoce kind, curled up like the petal of a white, almost cream like, and red flower, hence the description of a “flower you can eat.” This is also the type of radicchio you find more frequent on the stalls of vendors during the markets at Christmas time.

      The production of the radicchio di Treviso, the tardivo kind, requires not only good soil and climate, but also very talented and knowledgeable growers. The process is quite interesting and fascinating. It is argued that the idea of using the process called imbiancamento that gives the radicchio di Treviso [tardivo] its unique characteristics, was first suggested by Belgian Francesco Van Den Borre who came to Italy to design and realize a British styled garden next to a villa. The imbiancamento process was already known in Belgium, as it was used for some types of Belgian chicories. Francesco’s son, Aldo, who became a notable Trevigian, dismissed however the possibility that it was his father who introduced this method to the Trevigian farmers.

      And so it is that legend comes into play one more time: one evening a farmer brought into his house a wheelbarrow full of radicchi he had picked from the field. He put the wheelbarrow in a corner of the barn and forgot all about it until one evening, during the winter gatherings in the barns called filò, someone noticed the wheelbarrow and picking out a random plant, noticed that after having discarded the now-withered outer leaves, appeared a healthy head of radicchio of a beautiful red color. And so this is how the radicchio di Treviso [tardivo] came to be.

      Whatever the true, the radicchio di Treviso [tardivo] is today prepared by placing heads of radicchio, gathered between the middle of November until the middle of December, in boxes under which spring water flows touching only the roots of the radicchio. The water temperature is a constant 17 degrees Celsius. This process promotes the forzatura during which new radicchio grows beneath the older leaves. After about 2 weeks, the heads are removed and distributed on beds of straw or sawdust and kept there for two more days, after which they are ready to be cleaned, washed and taken to the markets.

      Needless to say that the radicchio di Treviso, both precoce and tardivo, is featured in a great number of recipes, which now includes also radicchio jam, radicchio cake and radicchio grappa. They can both be used in salads, or cut in a half and grilled or in main dishes such as the famous risotto al radicchio. They are usually bitter in taste with crunchy leaves.

      The radicchio of Treviso is celebrated every year in the city of Treviso since the year 1900. Indeed January 20, 1900 marked the very first exhibition dedicated to the radicchio di Treviso organized by Lombard agronomist Giuseppe Benzi and held in the Loggia of Piazza dei Signori, in the heart of the city. Since that first time, the exhibition never missed a year, except for WWI and for two years during WWII. Due to the great success of this exhibition, beginning in 1970, similar events were held throughout the province spreading the interest and knowledge about this unique product of Treviso.

      Radicchio di Treviso alla griglia / Grilled Radicchio di Treviso

      Radicchio di Treviso [tardivo]
      Extra virgin oil of olive

      Clean the root of the radicchio, wash it, dry it and cut it in either half or quarters depending on the size of each head. In a bowl mix salt, pepper and oil of olive. Using a brush, spread the dressing on each piece of radicchio making sure you brush more on the top part of the leaves. Place it on a grill, turning it often so that the leaves don’t dry out. The radicchio is ready when the leaves are of a golden but not burned color and soft. Place it on a serving dish and if you wish add more dressing.

      Buon appetito!

      One Response to “Il radicchio – the edible flower”

      1. I was so impressed that radiccio could be a topic of discussion. In Canada, radiccio wasw some thing that was tresured—especially gli semensa.Any one who came from Italia had to surrender their seeds which Canadians considered weeds.
        There I was eating corneti,radiccio in salata e ovi e un bel giuseto de vin.