Pink chicory, a lettuce lookalike, is getting tossed into salads and social media feeds
Pink is the new leafy green.
Pink radicchio, a rosy lettuce look alike, is brightening up boring salads and taking over social media as the latest Instagram-friendly superfood. The veggie, also called Radicchio del Veneto and La Rosa del Vento, is a chicory grown mostly in regions of Italy and in parts of California, Pennsylvania and Washington.
“It’s pretty mild and has a subtle bitterness to it,” says Chris Field, a farmer at Campo Rosso Farm in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania where he grows the pink veggie.
The seeds get imported from a company in Italy and are harvested from late November to March. Field says the veggie thrives in mild winter climates and can be grown in two ways: planted and grown in the ground until a bright pink color is visible on the field, or through a process called “forcing.” This is when the plant is grown partially in the fall, then replanted and grown in the dark so no sunlight reaches the stem. The stored energy is then pushed back up to the plant to keep it growing.
“Forced radicchio has more delicate leaves and is crispier and usually on the sweeter side,” says Field.
The millennial pink vegetable is popping up at a number of restaurants and grocery stores, including Whole Foods and Eataly, Eater reports. At King, a seasonal southern Italian eatery in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, pink radicchio is used in the Insalata d’inverno, a salad made with fresh ricotta, marjoram herbs and warm walnuts.
“The cold, winter months bring little color to the kitchen so these pink and ruby leaves are a joy when they arrive,” Jess Shadbolt, co-head chef at King says, adding: “The delicate bitterness of the leaves work well with the richness of the ricotta and the fragrance of the marjoram. Their robust leaves also hold up well when tossed in an anchovy and red wine vinaigrette.”
It’s also being used as a topping for a Caesar pizza, and as the star ingredient of an endive and farro salad at Tapestry Restaurant in Boston. Owner Meghann Ward uses Radicchio del Veneto sourced from California to add a crunchy texture and vibrant color.
“I have a secret love affair with winter heirloom chicories. They’re crunchy, watery, hearty and bitter — all my favorite components of a chicory. Plus, they are pink and give my Caesar Pizza a pop of color and flavor,” says Ward of the veggie that’s on the menu from December through April.
The ruby wedge is a bit pricer than your average head of lettuce. Field charges $5 a head, or around $10 a pound compared to around $2 for the price of lettuce.
Field believes the pink veggie is more of a feast for the eyes than the taste buds.
“It’s definitely a variety that’s selected for how pretty it is. Some of the other varieties taste a lot better, but it’s just striking how beautiful it is,” he says.
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