Italian radicchio is having a moment in the United States.
These bitter leafy vegetables, members of the chicory family, come in a spectrum of colors, shapes, textures, and levels of bitterness. Chicories make their appearance when it’s cold out — their growing season is typically mid-September to late-January (but in the Veneto region of Italy and the Pacific Northwest, which have similar climates, they can grow through March). Peculiar-looking things like Tardivo (which resembles a squid) and Castelfranco (which looks like a giant ruffly flower of pale yellow-green leaves that have been splattered with magenta pigment by an abstract expressionist) have been showing up on more farm stands, restaurant menus, and Instagram feeds in the past few months, garnering cult status in the niche vegetable category.
Interest in chicories is on the rise across the country, but in the Pacific Northwest, it’s at a fever pitch, with an abundance of unique radicchio varieties being grown there. Growers in the area have built a community around these obscure salad leaves by sharing all the information they can to help each other out. Now there are formal talks of forming an association to support one another and collectively market their radicchio.
Radicchio is challenging. It’s notoriously tricky to grow, otherworldly in appearance, and bitter, an off-putting flavor to many American palates — traits that don’t exactly lead a vegetable to commercial success. Of all the vegetables to rally for, why radicchio?
In Seattle, a group called Chicory Week organizes city-wide chicory celebrations — a week of events, dinners, and special dishes at many of the city’s restaurants — that lead up to their Sagra di Radicchio, a festival dedicated to the entire chicory family (which also includes endive, dandelion, and puntarelle/catalogna). The Sagra is an annual event for the public to meet growers, sample every type of chicory at their “raw bar,” and taste them in dishes made by many of the city’s favorite chefs. This event sells out…