A student contemplates the stoney space, sits gracefully and takes a bulb of Florence fennel from her satchel, begins to eat it raw like a forest animal content in its habitat.
She is surrounded by beauty and youth in the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi off the Via Zamboni in the cultural heartland of intellectual Bologna.
Then she munches on the purple-red radicchio of Chioggia, and suddenly we are at the southern edge of the Venetian lagoon, embracing the Adriatic, afraid to leave.
It is the end of October, festival time, the new harvest is in – amalfi lemoni, calabrian arancione, cachi mela, cipolla rossa, finocchio, marroni, porcini, the late radicchio! Fruits of field and forest.
Golden leaves fall and are quickly swept away, like her thoughts.
Our departure is also imminent, and her lunch has made us hungry.
The chicory and fennel of Italy compliment each other. They come together in risotto, are often baked, braised, stewed and stuffed, but mostly they make a crunchy aromatic salad or raw vegetable side dish.
There are two varieties of Chioggia radicchio (radicio de ciosa) – early (April-July), grown in and around Chioggia and late (September-March), grown further afield in Rovigo, Padua and Venice. Both are keenly desired and found in the groceries of Abruzzo, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia, Marche and Puglia.
The rounded red leaves encase a spherical heart, shaped like a rose. Sweet and bitter at the same time, the Chioggia radicchio resembles its parent, radicchio Trevisiano, in flavour and taste and is sought after because it has a high mineral and vitamin content.
Radicchio is favoured over all other varieties of chicory (Belgian, French, red chicory, succory – which are all very bitter) in salads.
Radicchio e Finocchio
- 1 bulb Florence fennel
- 1 head Chioggia / Treviso radicchio
- 10 sprigs oregano
- 30 ml olive oil
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp sea salt
Wash the fennel and radicchio thoroughly, cut into small pieces. Season with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt, a large splash of good olive oil and fresh oregano.
Dress with balsamic vinegar for a salad.
Calzone con Verdure
This crescent-shaped stuffed bread from Lazio is yet another traditional dish of Europe that is succumbing to competition from the fast-food industry’s obsession with meat.
Stuffed with summer vegetables, sweetened with raisins and spiced with chilli, the secret is with the seal, to allow the vegetables to cook evenly inside the baking dough.
- 140 ml water, warmed
- 100 g white spelt flour
- 30 g whole spelt flour
- 15 g olive oil
- 10 g yeast
- 1 tsp honey
- Salt, large pinch
Dissolve yeast and honey in warm water, leave for ten minutes.
Sieve flours into a large bowl, add salt, yeast mixture and olive oil. Bring together, then knead into smooth dough on a clean floured surface.
Cover dough with bowl, leave to rise for 50 minutes, degas, leave for an hour.
- 250 g chard leaves and stalks, cut into strips
- 250 g radicchio / chicory, cut into strips
- 200 g courgette, cut into strips
- 30 g olive oil
- 30 g raisins, soaked in 15 ml warm water for an hour
- 1 tsp peperoncini / chilli flakes
- 1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed coarsely
- Salt, large pinch
- Oil, for brushing and greasing
Preheat oven to 200°C.
Combine oil , raisins, vegetables and seasonings in a bowl, mix and leave for 15 minutes.
Roll dough to slighlty more than the diameter of a large plate.
Grease plate, place dough sheet on top, spoon vegetable mix into middle, fold dough over to form a crescent shape.
Seal edge tightly, brush both surfaces with oil.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Anguille con Radicchio di Chioggia
A traditional dish of Chioggia and the Po Delta is radicchio with eels on a bed of creamed black-eyed peas.
- 800 g eel
- 500 ml fish stock
- 200 g black-eyed beans, cooked
- 150 g radicchio, sliced
- 120 g ricotta cheese
- 80 g onion, chopped
- 1 egg, beaten (optional)
- 40 g carrots, cubed small (optional)
- 40 g celery, cubed small (optional)
- 40 ml olive oil
- 40 g red cabbage, cubed small (optional)
- 40 ml red wine
- 20 g butter
- 10 g black pepper, ground
- Salt, pinch
For those wary of eating eel, filleted mackerel is a good substitute for this dish.
Radicchio, however, has no substitute.
Fry half of onion in butter, add radicchio and allow to wilt, about two minutes, season and braise with wine. Cook until wine is reduced.
Cool, stir into ricotta and egg.
Place fish in between two layers of greaseproof paper, flatten with a gentle pressing of a rolling pin, season with pepper. Arrange on a layer of foil, spoon sufficient stuffing on each fillet, roll tightly. Fold foil into a package, wrap in a second layer of foil and cook in stock for 15 minutes.
Fry remaining onion in oil with a choice of either cabbage, carrot or celery, add the beans and sufficient water to cover. Cook until the vegetables are soft.
Push the bean mixture through a sieve into warm oil. Spoon into an ovenproof dish and keep warm in a 75°C oven.
Serve creamed beans on a warmed plate, place eels on top, garnish with thin pieces of eel dried in the oven or (with mackerel) crispy onions.
Risotto alla Radicchio di Verona
There are four distinct geographical varieties of radicchio:–
- Radicchio di Chioggia – small and large spherical, amaranth, soft bitter and sweet taste, crispy.
- Radicchio di Verona – small and medium heart-shaped, dark-red, soft bitter taste, crispy.
- Radicchio Rosso di Treviso – small elongated, wine-red, bitter taste, crunchy.
- Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco – medium and large open-round, white-cream, variegated violet-red, light bitter and sweet taste, crunchy.
As you can see each has a varying bitter taste which some cooks like to remove by soaking slices in water and vinegar for 30 minutes, then left to dry. Others prefer to add sugar to the risotto to counter the bitter taste of the vegetable. We don’t feel the need to soak Veronese radicchio for this dish, although a hint of sugar is an option.
- 1.5 litres vegetable stock, heated
- 350 g vialone nano rice
- 1 head of radicchio di Verona, chopped
- 100 g onion, chopped
- 40 g Grana Padano cheese, grated (optional)
- 30 g dry white wine
- 30 g olive oil
- 30 g sugar (optional)
- Black pepper, pinch
- Salt, pinch
Sauté onions in oil in a deep, wide frying pan saucepan over a low heat, about ten minutes.
Add half of the radicchio and the rice, toast, add the white wine and allow to reduce.
Add the stock a ladleful at a time to absorb the rice, about 20 minutes.
After 10 minutes add remaining radicchio.
Finish with seasonings and sugar. Rest for five minutes.
Garnish with cheese.