Get it from Italy or your garden … radicchio.

November 15, 2017 General Studies

Red-leafed chicory–called radicchio (radeek-ee-o)–is a northern Italian salad green that’s rapidly gaining popularity in the West. The first thing you notice is that it isn’t green: leaves can be rose red to bronzy maroon. Next, its nutty, slightly bitter flavor gets your attention.

Flown in from Italy, bright red commercially grown radicchio is now available (and expensive) at specialty produce counters and served in restaurants. But you can easily grow your own if you get seeds now (see source list at right). Plants develop during summer, turn dark red in cooler weather, and are ready for harvest in winter.

With your own supply of home-grown radicchio, you can experiment freely. Use it in salads, or try it brushed with oil and grilled on the barbecue. For recipe suggestions, see page 182.

Planting and tending. Sow seeds in June or July, either in place or in pots or flats for transplanting. Seeds sprout within a week and seedlings grow vigorously, ultimately resembling sturdy green romaine lettuce plants. Thin or transplant to stand 10 to 12 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Feed and water lightly and regularly. Bait against slugs and snails. In summer, leaves take on a few splotches of brown. With cool weather, these spread and deepen until the entire plant is dark red. Color is variable; some plants will be rose red like imported heads, while others will be purple, bronze, or multicolored. Because Italian growers hoard seed from their most desirable plants for market crops, seed packages get less carefully selected material–hence the color variations. The two chief varieties are the round ‘Rossa di Verona’ or ‘Rouge de Verone’ (‘Verona Red’) and the taller, romaine-shaped ‘Rossa di Treviso’ (‘Treviso Red’). Packages seed may produce both types.
Harvesting. As color intensifies, sample a young inner leaf from time to time and begin harvesting when taste is mild enough to be pleasing. Cut off a head and trim as you would a cabbage or a crisp-head lettuce. Leave the stems and a few leaves so secondary heads can form.

In hot interior valleys and deserts, complete your harvest in fall, winter, or earliest spring. Hot weather early in the season may produce loose, open, bitter heads. Where winters are mild, harvest through winter and early spring. Where the ground freezes, cut winter-softened plants back in early spring to bring on an edible crop.

In cold climates or to produce extra-tender shoots, you can also force roots as you would Belgian endive (a close relative)–by digging roots in the fall or early winter and trimming off tops (leave an inch of stem above the root.) In a cool place, force growth by setting roots upright in damp soil or sand in light-proof box, barrel, or large pot. Keep light out with a cover such as damp burlap, boards, or an inverted flowerpot. At 40[deg.] to 60[deg.], tender shoots form in a couple of weeks. Roots may develop a second crop, then should be discarded.

Seed sources. All these have free catalogs unless otherwise noted: Epicure Seeds, Box 23568, Rochester, N.Y. 14692; Herb Gathering, 5742 Kenwood, Kansas City, Mo. 64110; Lagomarsino Seeds, 5116 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento, 95819; Le Jardin du Gourmet, West Danville, Vt. 05873; Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321; Seeds Blum, Idaho City Stage, Boise 83706 (catalog $2); Shepherd’s Garden Seeds, 7389 W. Zayante R., Felton, Calif. 95018; and Thompson ; Morgan, Box 100, Farmingdale, N.J. 07727.


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