Ah, radicchio… You are definitely not a common ingredient in American cooking, but your stem roots back all the way to ancient times. Think the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), who was the first to write about radicchio in his Naturalis Historia as he praised and proclaimed its medicinal properties. Who knew, radicchio, that you were used as a blood purifier and an aid to insomniacs. I didn’t!
Come to think of it, you must be Italian, sometimes called Italian chicory, since your style is linked to your home, history and family—like many Italians are. You were first cultivated in the cool Veneto province of northwestern Italy, as well as Trentino, in the fifteenth century. Since then you were transformed into deep-red, white-veined leaves that we now know. However, you didn’t do this on your own. A Belgian agronomist, Frencesco Van den Borre, in 1860 used a technique of whiting or blanching to create your now stylish looks and, I must say, it is working for you.
There are many different types of radicchio: Rosso di Treviso, Variegato di Castelfranco, Rosso di Chioggia and Rosso di Verona (how I love Verona, but we aren’t talking about me). And as we stated above your Italian style shows through with each name hailing the area you are from.
Welcome to America, radicchio, by way of this week’s Sunday Pasta™, Tagliatelle con Radicchio e Speck. I believe that you will convince Americans you are more than “lettuce.” However, technically you are keeping to your Italian roots (since it is an authentic Italian recipe) just cooked on American soil, but knowing you that is the way you will want it. “Ah, radicchio” may soon be spoken by those in English, not Italian, and hopefully many different cultural people whose English does not have an Italian accent. Radicchio for all.
Donna Picciocchi, Editor