The last time I ate radicchio was at our friend Sally's house in Panicale, Italy. Alex and I were on our honeymoon, staying at Sally's, and we'd just been to the big Wednesday market in Castiglione del Lago. We bought artichokes, branzini, and radicchio. Then we came home and made a feast.
I prepared the radicchio the only way I knew how—tossed with olive oil and balsamic and a sprinkle of sea salt. Alex hated it—he can't stand bitter. I loved it. I'm not sure what that says about our compatibility, but I can tell you that it made both of us happy. He ate a whole plate full of branzini, and I ate almost a whole head of radicchio by myself.
Since then I've come to love radicchio even more. I've discovered it grilled, and I've also met a few of its relatives. They're all in the chicory family—endive and frisee and escarole and witloof and even wild dandelion-style chicory greens. I was at an event in Harwich a few weeks ago and met a man named Steve Coleman, who runs the Eldredge Farm CSA, and grows a lot of these varieties. He showed me his seed order, and I got inspired. I decided to order radicchio seed for the first time ever—an Italian variety called Radicchio di Treviso. I told this to my editor, Viki, who used to live in Italy, and she freaked. Apparently this was an excellent choice.
It's an open-pollinated variety, and it takes about 80 days from seed to head. I'm planting mine indoors in seed trays—now's the time—and when they're a few inches high, I'll move them out into the big garden. They want a spot that's sunny but that gets a little shade, because once it gets hot, they tend to bolt. This particular variety is supposed to look a lot like romaine lettuce. It starts out green and slowly turns a deep burgundy. Toward the end of the 80 days I'm supposed to take a ribbon and bind the tops of the heads to blanch the inner leaves and make them grow more tightly. We'll see!
Steve's choices are Keystone—a frilly endive; Natacha—a big endive with a blanched heart and bright green outer leaves that are a little bit wavy and not so tightly packed; Rhodos—a small, curly frisee from France; Indigo—a tight purple radicchio that does well in both hot and cold weather; Chiogga Red—a spring radicchio with a large, ruddy-colored head; and his favorite, Pan de Sucre, which is a big tall green radicchio that looks a lot like romaine. It's only mildly bitter, which is why it's also called Sugarloaf, and is very crisp.
Most of these chicory greens I eat pretty simply—in a bitter salad with olive oil and balsamic, or halved and grilled and dressed the same way—but I like to get creative with frisee. There's a salad at the restaurant where I work that I like to attempt at home—a big pile of very curly frisee tossed with a mustardy dressing, lardon chunks, and a panko-fried duck egg.
I don't get quite so crazy at home—I pan-fry the egg over-easy, so that the yolk runs, and I crumble regular old bacon over top. It's nothing fancy, but it really hits the spot when you have a hankering for frisee. If you'd like to make it, you can find the recipe here.
And in the meantime—while we wait for our endives and radicchios and frisees to get big—I'd love to hear. What varieties are you growing? And where?