Radicchio – brightening up the salad bar

Lambs leaf, rocket, iceberg lettuce – green, green, green as far as the eye can see! But with its rich red colour, radicchio is proof that salad doesn’t always have to be green. And as well as looking good, it tastes great too! We asked our Vapianisti what makes this exotic leaf so special and what it works best with.  

Here at Vapiano, radicchio is part of our standard salad mix for a good reason. Countless vitamins and minerals make this red leaf a nutritious choice. It also complements other lettuce leaves, adding a splash of colour and new taste nuances. But where does this slightly bitter vegetable come from? And how do you prep it?

Radicchio – chicory’s distant cousin

Lots of people know radicchio as “red chicory” and the clue is in the name. Radicchio is closely related to both chicory and endives, explaining why these three lettuces all taste so similar. “Unlike chicory, radicchio has a round shape with round leaves to match,” explains our Vapianisti. Its slightly bitter, zesty flavour perfectly balances salads with a fruity note. But why stop at salad? Radicchio can also be steamed and added to a rice dish, for example. “Keep it crunchy by only cooking for a couple of minutes,” our Vapianisti advises. “Any longer and you’ll be left with soggy leaves.”

Radicchio – made in Italy

Radicchio is a pure-bred Italian and has been grown in the Veneto region surrounding Venice since the 16th century. It’s now also cultivated in comparably cooler Northern Europe, growing steadily in popularity over the centuries. The season runs from July to October where plants thrive in the open air. A greenhouse can be used at other times of year, meaning radicchio is readily available throughout the seasons.

“There are seven different kinds of radicchio,” our Vapianisti tells us. “But due to Germany’s climate, the most common variety Rosso di Chioggia is the only one that grows here.” The Vapianisti in our restaurants prepare the freshly picked vegetables to be added to our standard salad mix. The wine-red lettuce can’t be stored for long or it wilts, so like most salad ingredients it’s best prepped as soon as possible. If you can’t get started straight away, our Vapianisti has a good tip. “Wrap the radicchio loosely in paper and place in your fridge’s vegetable drawer. It’s the best way to keep it fresh and prevent early wilting.” Stored like this, radicchio can be kept for up to a week.

Radicchio – how to prep

Ideally, radicchio should be prepped straight after picking. First remove the outer leaves from the firm, closed lettuce heart. Most of the bitter substances can be found in the stalk. “If you prefer a milder taste, remove both the stalk and the leaves’ thick veins. A short water bath also takes the bitterness away,” our Vapianisti continues. After prepping, add the red leaves to cold salads or steam briefly to use in a pasta or rice dish.

Radicchio – a leafy health kick

Radicchio is a variety of chicory and bursting with vitamins and minerals. Some 28 mg of vitamin C in every 100 mg of radicchio means this lettuce is just the job for giving your immune system a boost. It’s more than twice the amount found in an apple and represents a quarter of your recommended daily intake. But that’s not all these red leaves have up their sleeve. Radicchio is also rumoured to soothe tummy troubles and intestinal problems, with its bitter substance lactucopicrin known to aid digestion.

Amy, Vapianisti