Radicchio Red Chicory

  • Sun: Full Sun
  • Harvest Size: 4 to 6 inches across
  • Days to Harvest: 60 to 65
  • Plant Size: 6 to 8 inches tall and wide

Add color to your garden and dinner table by growing radicchio. Wine-red leaves have white ribs infused with tangy taste. Radicchio is an Old World chicory, a frost-tolerant vegetable that grows much like cabbage. Heads are small, reaching a size between an orange and a grapefruit. Cool weather sweetens leaf flavor.

In Italy, at least 15 kinds of radicchio grace salad and dinner plates as familiar components of mealtime menus. Americans tend to use this colorful chicory as a salad garnish due to the leaves’ bitter flavor. Serving with salt counteracts the bitterness and makes radicchio’s high sugar content stand out. Learn more about preparing radicchio below.

Plant Spacing: 8 to 12 inches apart. Plants Per Person: 5 to 6.

Secrets to Success »

Radicchio grows best during the cooler seasons—spring and fall. Set plants in the garden in early spring (as soon as soil can be worked). For a fall crop, tuck transplants into soil in midsummer in colder zones or in early fall in regions with a mild winter. Established plants can withstand frost. After planting, fertilize with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food. This organically based fertilizer is low in salt and won’t cause ugly brown leaf tips.

Avoid acid soil and over-fertilization with nitrogen, which can cause bolting. Plants are shallow rooted and sensitive to infrequent watering, which increases bitterness and causes uneven growth. Irrigate deeply and frequently, providing roughly 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. The key watering period is 7 to 10 days before heads mature.

Mulch plants to retain soil moisture and limit weed growth. Heads form best in cool weather; cooler temps sweeten leaf flavor. Provide partial shade during hot spells.

Harvest and Use »

Harvest individual leaves any time. Heads are ready for cutting when they’re firm to the touch, similar to iceberg lettuce. Harvest heads when they’re young, picking at various stages: kiwi, orange, or grapefruit size. Older heads become more bitter and tough. Don’t expect all heads in a crop to form at the same time.

Once heads reach maturity, they won’t continue to enlarge but will instead develop a core, the start of a flowering stem. When this core forms, flavor becomes intensely bitter.

Fall-grown crops hold heads better and longer than spring-grown plants. When stored in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag, heads typically last 3 to 4 weeks.

Plants handle fall frosts well. In cold climes, snow-covered, frozen heads can be harvested and consumed. Thaw slowly and discard outer, cold-damaged leaves.

Eat radicchio raw or cooked, using individual leaves or chopping a head. Toss raw leaves with olive oil and salt. Blend them with milder lettuces and greens for a fresh salad. Roast or grill chunks of radicchio. Sauté, bake, or flour and fry individual leaves. Count on radicchio to add color to pasta, soups, legumes, rice dishes, or omelets.

Raw or cooked, the bitter flavor pairs well with the acidic sweetness of balsamic vinegar. Other great flavor partners include butter, prosciutto, Italian cheeses, lemon, salami, and fresh shell beans. Use radicchio as a substitute for chicory or endive in recipes.

Try these garden companions »

  • Arugula, Swiss chard, spinach, and Romaine lettuce to toss a pretty, flavorful salad.
  • Sweet peppers and red onions for creating tangy omelets and soups.
  • Brussels sprouts and cauliflower to savor grilled or oven-roasted vegetable dishes.

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