With tightly bound, magenta leaves, radicchio is a striking vegetable. But at the market, it often receives an admiring gaze, then is passed over for the more familiar, less bitter and less intimidating greens. While radicchio (pronounced similar to Pinocchio) looks like a small cabbage, it is actually a member of the chicory family, cousins of lettuces and dandelions. Also known as Italian or Red Chicory, radicchio is very versatile to use and simple to prepare. It is nutritionally rich, but has several distinguishing health benefits that set it apart from typical salad greens. Check out this impressive redhead!
Chicories, like radicchio, contain inulin, a non-digestible carbohydrate. Through fermentation, inulin acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of beneficial bifidobacteria in the intestine. Inulin also helps regulate blood sugar levels. In addition, the bitter quality of radicchio increases bile salts, which can improve digestion.
Bone and neurological health
Radicchio is uniquely rich in vitamin K, with 100 grams providing 212 percent of daily recommended values. Vitamin K promotes the formation and strengthening of bone. Further, research shows adequate dietary vitamin K may limit naturally occurring neuron damage in the brain. As such, vitamin K has an established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Radicchio’s vibrant red color is an eye-pleaser in more ways than one. The brightly colored leaves are an excellent source of phenolic flavonoid antioxidants, such as zeaxanthin and lutein. These compounds protect eyes from age-related macular disease (ARMD) by filtering harmful ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen for your eyes!
When selecting radicchio, look for compact, bright-colored heads with prominent ribs, free of bruises and brown or withered leaves. The smaller, younger heads will be less bitter. Refrigerate the heads, but eat as quickly as possible as they do become more bitter with time. To reduce the bitterness, soak the leaves or quarters in cold water for 10 to 30 minutes.
Substitute radicchio in recipes calling for chicory or endive. Tear or chop the raw leaves into small pieces and combine them with other salad greens for a flavor, color and texture accent. The individual leaves can also be used as elegant and low-carb serving cups or wrappers for appetizers. Cored, but not quartered, the sturdy leaves are excellent grilled or roasted. Radicchio pairs especially well with balsamic vinegar. Try tossing the soaked and dried leaves with a balsamic vinaigrette, with an optional topping of shaved parmesan. Balsamic vinegar also combines well with grilled or roasted radicchio. Below is an adaptation of Michael Ruhlman’s Grilled Radiccchio recipe.
Roasted Radicchio with Balsamic Vinegar
Recipe developed by Maribeth Evezich, MS, RD, CDN; adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Grilled Radiccchio recipe
2 medium heads radicchio, quartered lengthwise, core intact
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place radicchio wedges in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Place each wedge, cut side down, on the lined baking sheet.
- Roast the wedges, turning once, until the leaves are wilted and just slightly charred, about 12-15 minutes.
- Season both sides of the wedges with salt and pepper.
- Before serving, drizzle balsamic vinegar or vinaigrette over the top of each wedge.