Radicchio and Chicory growing tips
Don't switch off straight away with the word Chicory! Read on and you might just be making a new friend!
There’s quite a difference between the two types. Chicories (the green ones), are treated much like lettuces in that they have the same growing season and are not generally frost hardy (sow from February to September/October). These are best eaten raw in salads. Radicchios are generally from the alpine northern part of Italy and are completely hardy.
They are generally sown much later and harvested through the winter. In fact, many radicchio varieties actually need the cold to turn red. Some varieties can withstand temperatures of -15°C and can be harvested outside in the UK from November to April. Cold is what makes radicchio turn red, and herein lies the problem. If you sow it in March, April or May you end up with a big green head like a Romaine lettuce, which turns hairy and so bitter that it is inedible. The reason for this is that it’s being planted with cold
and grown into heat, when in reality you need to sow it with heat (around the end of August) and grow it into the cold.
I always plant mine when I come back from my summer holidays and the plant will look green, but then, come October, you see a slight red tinge and by November, December, the radicchio turns red. The colder it is, the redder – and sweeter – radicchio is. This is why you don’t see radicchio of Sicily or Naples, but of Verona, Treviso, Bergamo and Milano. Some chicories are variegated and look brilliant. The most striking of these are Variegata di Castelfranco and Romea or Fladige. As these are sometimes in the middle in terms of colour,
people are often unsure whether to call them chicories or radicchios.
The best chicories for the salad bowl are the Pan di Zucchero (head), Bianca di Milano (head), Grumolo Bionda (light green rosettes for cutting), Grumolo Verde (green rosettes), Zuccherina di Trieste (cutting), da Taglio a Foglia Larga (large-leafed, cutting), Bianca di Chioggia (head), Mantovana (head) and Spadona (cutting). Then there are the Catalogna Puntarelle chicories, which look like big, sturdy upright dandelions. These can be eaten raw, but in some regions of Italy they cook them and use them as a sauce with garlic, onion, salt and olive oil. The main varieties are from Puglia and Brindisi, where it can still get cold, although there are also two varieties from the Veneto region.
The best-known radicchio is the Rossa di Treviso, which is the red and white striped upright variety often found in salad packs. They look awful, but just throw away the straggly outer leaves and you are left with your prize. This is the best variety for cooking. Both green and red chicories are sown at 1 cm depth; green chicories from March onwards and sometimes until October, red chicories (radicchios) from June to September onwards. See sowing details for each variety. There is one chicory that is not Italian but is used all over Europe. This is the Belgian witloof-style chicory, which is yellow. The plant is grown and then the leaves are cut back and the roots are carefully lifted from the soil and placed into a bucket of sand or a cool dark room for the sweet yellow ‘chicons’ to form.
Risotto con Radicchio e Luganica
Risotto with Radicc hio and Italian Sausage
From the book by Paolo Arrigo of Franchi seeds 'From seed to plate'
Using a large , heavy frying pan , soften the onion in a little olive oil. Place the sausage slices in the pan and fry until slightly browned. Add the rice together with the white vino and then, after 1–2 minutes, enough stock to just cover the rice. Risotto rice takes about 20 minutes to cook depending on the variety and you will need to keep adding the stock a spoonful at a time so that it doesn’t dry out.
Risotto should be slightly fluid, but not liquid when served. After about 10 minutes, add the radicchio and season to taste. Stir occasionally, especially towards the end of cooking, as it can stick. Test the risotto before serving to make sure the rice
is cooked through. When ready to serve, add some butter to glaze the risotto, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a glass of good red (Gattinara, Spanna, Barolo or Amarone).
1 small white onion (Musona), sliced
3 Italian luganica sausages, sliced
350–400 g arborio, carnaroli or Sant’ Andrea
½ glass white Vino Bianco from Italy
1 litre chicken stock
1–2 heads of radicchio (Rossa di Treviso or
Verona), roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
butter, to serve
freshly grated Parmesan, to serve
Radicchio Rossa di Treviso: Upright red and white striped variety from north-west Italy that turns red and sweeter with the cold. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Discard the outer leaves. Sow from June to August and harvest until the end of December.
Radicchio Rossa di Treviso Svelta: Commonly referred to as ‘Black of Treviso’, owing to its deep purple colour. Svelta is the earliest of the Trevisos and the word means ‘quickly’. Harvest until the end of November.
Radicchio Rossa di Treviso Tardiva: This is the latest of the Treviso-type radicchios. It easily resists frosts and can be harvested as late as the end of March. Compact and tight, with a long head and thin, meaty, curved leaves.
Variegated Radicchio of Lusia Tardiva: Large late variety with ample leaves. Green with red
specks. Tasty and crunchy. Good resistance to frosts. Sow from June/July to end of September.
Harvest October to end of February.
Chicory Pan di Zucchero: ‘Sugerloaf’. Upright green variety with long tight head. Used widely. An ideal variety for shredding. RHS AGM Merit winner. Sow from June to August.
Chicory Bianca di Milano: Upright green chicory with tightly packed, large head. Sow from Jun to Aug and harvest Oct to mid Dec.
Chicory Grumolo Bionda: Open rosette-shaped leaves. Sow from mid March to the end of October and harvest from May the same year to February the following year.
Chicory Zuccherina di Trieste: ‘Sugar of Trieste’. Very early. Tender leaves that grow easily and that are ‘cut and come again’. Sow from March to end of September.
Radicchio Palla Rossa di Verona: A classic ‘red ball’ variety, late and very hardy with thick white ribs. Sow from June to end of August and harvest until the end of March. Like all radicchios, they won’t turn red unless subjected to low temperatures.
Radicchio Palla Rossa Precoce: Mid/early. ‘Red ball’-type chicory that is not winter hardy and is therefore harvested until about mid November. Tightly wrapped head with white veining.
Radicchio Palla Rossa 6 Agena: Late. A large head with sweeping white veining and a compact head. Resistant to low temperatures, so can be harvested from December to end of January.
Radicchio Palla Rossa 6 Marzatica: A late, sturdy and productive plant. It will produce
robust outer leaves with internal leaves of deep red with white veining. Resistant to very low temperatures and can be harvested until the end of March.
Variegated Palla Rossa of Chioggia: Mid/early with red and white mottled leaves and round closed head. From the Veneto region of Italy. Sow from June to end of August and harvest until the end of November.
Radicchio Palla Rossa Pagoda: A late variety that is resistant to low temperatures. The veining is consistent and looks like lightning on the red leaves. Sow from mid July to end of August and harvest until end of January.
Radicchio Rossa di Verona sel. Arca: Head of fair dimensions with large crunchy ribs and no veining. Early. Sow from July to August and harvest until mid February.
Chicory Bianca di Chioggia: From the Veneto region, this mid/late chicory forms a round green head with red-veined edges. Unusually for a green chicory, it is resistant to low temperatures and hence harvested until mid February.
Puntarelle Catalogna Chicory di Galatina: Early. Upright chicory with serrated leaves and pinecone- shaped buds at the base. You grow this variety precisely for the ‘puntarelle’ buds, which are sliced and dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
Radicchio Orchidea Rossa: ‘Red Orchid’. Looks like a large red flower head, hence its beautiful name. Sow in March and again from June to September.
Variegated Chicory of Castelfranco: This chicory has two crops: first it will give you an open yellow head of chicory that looks as if it has been splattered with red paint, then you can pull the roots and produce sweet yellow ‘chicons’ by putting them in sand and depriving them of light.
Yellow Chicory Witloof: This variety is Belgian and is primarily used to produce the yellow ‘chicons’ that are so popular in Belgium. Cut back the foliage and gently lift the roots. Store in a crate of sand or soil mixed with sand. Commercially, they are brought on in cool, dark rooms.
Chicory da Radice di Chiaveri: An unusual chicory whose white, carrot-like root is harvested much like a dandelion root. Can be eaten raw, cooked or made into chicory coffee. Sow from April to the end of July.
Chicory Spadona: Early cutting variety with lance-shaped single leaves. Because they are long, they bunch well and so are particularly suited for market. Sow from March to September.
Radicchio Grumolo Rossa: Late red radicchio that you ‘cut and come again’. Forms the beautiful characteristic rosette-shaped heads late on with the cold. Sow from May to September and harvest from October to March.
Chicory Selvatica da Campo: Wild chicory, which resembles spindly dandelion leaves and is eaten from central Italy to the north. Sow from May to the end of August.
Dandelion Dente di Leone: In France, known as ‘pis en lit’ (wet the bed) because of their diuretic properties. If cultivating, blanch them to make sure they are tender and sweet enough. Every part of the dandelion can be eaten, from the flowers to the roots and indeed during ww2 coffee was made with the roots.