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.
A member of the dandelion family, chicory is also used as a vegetable, cooked and uncooked. Chicons au Gratin is now one of Europe’s most popular traditional dishes.
Radicchio e Finocchio
1 bulb Florence fennel 1 head Chioggia/Treviso radicchio Oregano Olive oil, extra virgin Pepper Salt
Wash the fennel and radicchio thoroughly, cut into small pieces. Season with fresh ground pepper and sea salt, a 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.
Dough 140 ml water, warmed 100 g white spelt flour 30 g whole spelt flour 15 g olive oil 10 g yeast 5 g 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.
Filling 250 g chard leaves and stalks, cut into strips 250 g radicchio/chicory, cut into strips 200 g zucchini, cut into strips 30 g olive oil 30 g raisins, soaked in 15 ml warm water for an hour 5 g peperoncini/chilli flakes 3 g black pepper, 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
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 200 g black-eyed beans, cooked 150 g radicchio, sliced 120 g ricotta cheese 1 egg, beaten (optional) 80 g onion, chopped 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 500 ml fish stock
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.
Chicons au Gratin
Chicory is versatile, a traditional vegetable loved by many. In Belgium, Flanders and northern France they produce a variety called endive, a white vegetable known as chicon, witloof (white leaf) and Brussels endive. They combine it with ham and cheese to make a heavenly dish.
Endive, 1 head per diner Ham, 1 slice per head Béchamel sauce made with gruyère or edam cheese 25 g sugar Pepper Salt Gruyère or comté, grated Nutmeg, grated
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Wash endive, removing bad leaves and hard root, braise or steam for ten minutes, leave to cool.
Roll each endive head in a slice of ham, place in a casserole dish, and fill the spaces between the heads with béchamel sauce.
Season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 40 minutes, sprinkling cheese on top after 25 minutes, and cook until a golden skin has formed. Finish with nutmeg.
Risotto alla Radicchio
1.5 litres vegetable stock, heated 350 g arborio 250 g radicchio, chopped 100 g onion, chopped 40 g Grana Padano, grated (optional) 30 ml cream (optional) 30 g dry white wine 30 g olive oil Black pepper, pinch Salt, pinch Sugar, pinch
Sauté onions in oil in a deep, wide frying pan saucepan over a low heat, about ten minutes.
Add radicchio, rice, white wine and stir constantly.
Add the stock a ladleful at a time to absorb the rice, about 20 minutes.
The cheese, cream and sugar counteract the bitterness of the radicchio, but the omission of the cheese and cream turns this into a vegan dish. Just add more sugar instead.
Finish with cheese, cream, seasonings and sugar, or seasonings and sugar for the vegan choice.
Leave to rest for five minutes.
The stamppot is a mashed potato stew filled with meat and vegetables (or fruit), and despite its associations with other regions (kale and potato in Ireland and Scandinavia for example) it is uniquely Dutch and still outrageously popular.
Kale has replaced cabbage in recent years, while chard or endive mixed with smoked bacon and white mushrooms is gaining in popularity, but still preferred is sauerkraut with smoked sausage.
The variations are now endless, potatoes being the common base.
1.5 kg floury/mealy potatoes, peeled, cubed 1 kg endive, chopped 250 g cured/smoked bacon piece, diced 250 g white mushrooms, sliced 150 ml milk/cooking water, hot 50 g butter/sunflower oil 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground Nutmeg, grated, large pinch Salt, pinch
Boil potatoes with a pinch of salt in sufficient water to cover in a large pot, strain, retaining the cooking liquid and keeping it hot.
In a deep, wide frying pan sauté bacon in three tablespoons of oil or 50g of butter over a low heat for five minutes, increase heat, add mushrooms, stir and cook until mushrooms release their liquid, add greens, cover, remove from heat.
Mash potatoes with milk or cooking liquid.
Fold bacon-mushroom mixture into mash with nutmeg and pepper.
The bacon can be omitted to make this a vegan dish using the oil instead of butter and water instead of milk.
Traditional Radicchio Dishes
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