Don’t miss Radicchio Fest!
Do you love Radicchio? We Do!
Radicchios and a range of chicories and are becoming more common at fall and winter farmers markets. Their colours are attractive and you might be tempted to buy one – but if you haven’t cooked with them before, their bitterness might be off-putting. If that’s the case, help is at hand. The Vancouver Radicchio Festival this month can help you figure out these bitter vegetables.
The emergence of radicchios at the farmers markets isn’t an accident. For many farms, extending their seasons into the winter months has meant a heavily reliance on crops from the brassica family – vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, arugula and many others.
While brassicas are cold-tolerant, they are also susceptible to diseases and pests that make rotating these crops in the field very important. This means only planting a brassica crop in the same spot once every four years! The more famers rely on one family of crops, the more challenging it is to rotate crops adequately.
Many chicories are cold-tolerant and particular varieties of radicchio are bred for winter production. The Pacific North-West shares some climactic characteristics with Northern Italy, where many radicchio varieties are cultivated. Radicchio crops are the perfect fit for farms looking to offer fresh vegetables throughout the season while respecting sustainable growing practices.
Each farm admires bitters for a number of reasons. Some farmers are attracted to the colour these crops add to fall and winter crop selections. Others are looking to diversify fall and winter crop offerings. In some instances particular varieties offered a unique challenge to growers – in some instances, chefs have asked growers to try new crops.
For all of the farmers growing radicchio, these have become important crops and they are excited to share their passion with everyone who loves to create great meals. Whether you’re looking to add to your colour or flavour palette or looking for fresh salads during darker season of the year, local farmers are ready to share their passion for bitter with you.
Cooking with Radicchio
At first glance, the North American diet doesn’t include a lot of bitter flavours. Yet coffee, dark chocolate and even IPA beers rely on bitterness as an essential component of their flavour profiles. Nonetheless, bitterness is rarely celebrated and is often underestimated.
Using bitter flavours increases a chef’s pallet of options and the colours — rich reds and maroons to bright pinks of radicchios — add a visual flare to salads. But salad is just the start of what radicchios have to offer. Grilled, in risotto and even in jams, radicchio has a broad range of uses. Plus, many radicchios are bred for autumn winter harvests, making them an ideal vegetable for salads and cooking as days get colder and shorter.
The key to using bitter flavours is to use them as an accent, to compliment other flavours in a dish and to add complexity. In a practical sense, don’t chop up a head of radicchio and serve it as a salad for guests who aren’t familiar with bitters. Rather, use the brilliant red leaves as an accent in a salad of fresh greens.
Adding bitter flavours to your diet can be a gradual process. As you regularly consume bitter flavours, your taste buds become more accustomed to bitter flavours. Plus, there are some techniques to consider when cooking with bitters:
- Dilution: Don’t start out by biting into a plate of raw radicchio. Use a little bit of bitter in a dish. Try adding a small amount of radicchio to your salads for flavour and colour, mixing with other greens such as lettuce, arugula, kale and spinach. Also, try milder bitter greens such as frisée endive.
- Caramelization: Roasting bitter vegetables helps bring out natural sweetness and balances the bitterness. Some radicchios, like Sugarloaf and Chioggia varieties are easy to cut into slices or wedges for grilling.
- Salt: Adding salt helps to reduce the taste perception of bitterness. Consider ingredients such as feta cheese or prosciutto ham that add flavour and saltiness to a dish.
- Sweetness: Adding sweetness balances bitter flavours. Using seasonal fruits in salads is a perfect way to add sweetness. Likewise, using honey in a salad dressing can add a sweet touch.
Overall, try contrasting bitter flavours with other strong flavours — the bitterness of radicchio in a salad with sweet pears, salty cheese or prosciutto and sour balsamic vinaigrette.
Most chicories are mildest and most colourful when grown in colder weather, so many are coming into their peak. Seeking out radicchio in late-fall and early-winter will yield the most balanced flavour and spectacular colours.
Finally, if you’re looking for radicchio prepared by the best, order it at a restaurant. Chefs will balance flavours and offer creative dishes that will help you fall in love with bitter veggies.
The Vancouver Radicchio Festival will be at the Riley Park Farmers Market on November 9 with recipes, radicchio samples and information about using bitters in your menu planning.
A number of events are planned for the Vancouver Radicchio Festival. The Italian Cultural Centre is featuring a Taste of Radicchio dinner on 14 November with dishes featuring produce from local growers. On 17 November five chefs and five farms are featuring the Radicchio Salon with radicchio tasters and info on growing and cooking with radicchio. Information about all events can be found at https://vancouverradicchiofestival.ca/
Share your own creations on social media and tag using #XOradicchio.
Farms that sell at Vancouver Farmers Markets participating in the Vancouver Radicchio Festival include: