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Radicchio, one of the most colourful vegetables ever.

Radicchio has a very unique history that is somewhat recent. It is the result of human interventions on various species of chicory, which were selected to obtain a broad-leaved vegetable with an intense colour and a strong flavour. Radicchio comes in a wide variety of cultivars, some of which are distinctly different from one another.

However, they all have one characteristic in common, which is the high concentration of anthocyanins, antioxidant substances that, in addition to giving the typical red-violet colour, support cellular regeneration mechanisms and help prevent cancer. For the rest, radicchio is rich in vitamin C, potassium, and calcium. The quantity of protein is relevant to the category to which they belong. The calorie intake is quite low, equal to 13 kcal per 100 grammes.

Some varieties of radicchio

Here are some of the most popular radicchio varieties in Italy:

  • Treviso red. One of the most famous varieties, with the PGI denomination. It is characterised by its vinous colour, a marked crunchiness, and a surprising sweetness.
  • Castelfranco variety. Another PGI variety, it is characterised by its light colour, slightly pronounced crunchiness, and sweet flavour that is complemented by a hint of bitterness.
  • Verona. Yet another Venetian variety with the PGI mark, it is similar to the Treviso Red but is characterised by a much more bitter flavour, making it ideal for salads.
  • Masera flower. A flavour that is delicate, slightly sweet, and has a hint of bitter aftertaste.
  • Lusia. It’s a unique kind since the white portion predominates the coloured portion. This type of radicchio is very rich in mineral salts and, by virtue of its strong flavour, goes very well with salads.
  • Canary. The typical trait of this variety is the colour, which tends towards yellow with red shades. It is the most acidic variety, but still retains a marked sweetness.

Radicchio, gastronomically speaking

In terms of cuisine, radicchio is primarily eaten raw in salads, sometimes with a little seasoning to bring out the flavour. On the other hand, it can serve as the main ingredient, or at least a key component, of appetisers and side dishes. It goes particularly well with “large” pastas, seasoned with cheese sauces.

It also lends itself to the creation of full-bodied and tasty appetisers, perhaps in the form of rolls (which enhance their crunchiness). They can also replace regular lettuce when preparing gourmet sandwiches. Overall, it pairs quite well with the standard ingredients of Trentino, Venetian, and Lombard cuisine. For instance, with raw gammon, gorgonzola, and speck.