Produce Profile: Grow Radicchio for Fall Garden Color

PHOTO: Peter Turner Photography/Shutterstock

“I can’t wait to have a big plate of radicchio,” I have never said, ever. But that’s because I’ve never had homegrown radicchio—until now.

With vibrant fuchsia leaves, radicchio looks more like a relative of lettuce or cabbage than it does of its close cousin, chicory. Its hardy nature means it’ll stand up to some winter weather as well as to cooking in a variety of ways.

This is my first year growing radicchio, and I’m here for it.

How to Grow Radicchio

Like most bitter leafy vegetables, radicchio will take cold weather over hot. You can start seeds indoors, though it’ll likely be too warm for them there. Direct seed into the garden about 1 foot apart.

In my Central Kentucky garden, I planted radicchio in mid-September with the hope of overwintering for early spring harvest. Had we gotten around to planting a month earlier, it’s possible the plants would have done poorly because of the heat.

It’s also possible they would have done fine because the end of August wasn’t so bad this year, and in that case we would be eating radicchio before Halloween. Growing your own food is a gamble.

Mulch around the seedlings to keep the roots cool and to retain moisture here in the last vestiges of summer-like weather.

Keep radicchio watered, particularly leading up to your harvest, for the most crisp leaves. This can be challenging if you try to grow radicchio during freezing weather.

As we head into winter, radicchio will stand up to the cold and even become sweeter because of it. The head’s growth will likely slow as the weather drops to freezing. A low tunnel or row cover may keep slow growth coming.

Temperatures have to dip into the mid-20s to freeze-kill a radicchio plant.

Radicchio Growing 201 involves digging it up, relocating it indoors and forcing its growth. I have no plans for this at the moment but won’t rule it out as a winter experiment.

How to Harvest Radicchio

Radicchio will form tight, cabbage-like heads. Cut the head just above the soil surface with a sharp knife. You may find leaves resprouting from the core left in the garden bed a few weeks later.

Harvest a few loose leaves at a time if your plants aren’t shaping up or if you prefer a cut-and-come-again crop.

Keep radicchio in your fridge in the crisper drawer. It’ll keep for several weeks. After that, it’ll lose its crunch over time, as leafy veggies do.

How to Eat Radicchio

This vegetable is high in Vitamin C and potassium, according to Tufts University, making it a worthwhile addition to your cool-weather diet.

Radicchio is a famously bright-colored salad accent. As noted above, this is a bitter vegetable, so it pairs well with sweeter lettuces. It has a hardy leaf—think red cabbage—so also adds a nice crunch.

The leaves’ cup-like shape and firmness make them a great vehicle for egg salad, tuna salad and the like.

Cooked radicchio is sweeter than raw. Again, think cabbage: add it to soups, broil it with olive oil and herbs, or sauté it in a stir fry. Try substituting radicchio for endive, if you have a favorite endive recipe.

In planting this year’s radicchio, I have no idea how well it will grow or if anyone else in my house will want to eat it. Give me a plant that can add a pop of color to otherwise gray-brown fall surroundings, and I figure it can’t be so bad.

I’m looking forward to that first plate of radicchio, after all.

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