Radicchio was developed the late 1860s, from various locale chicory varieties
in the Veneto region of northern Italy, by the visiting Belgian gardener
consultant Francesco Van Den Borre. Today, about a dozen of different
types of radicchio are grown in Italy.
The two most common, both in Italy and in the United States are:
Radicchio di Treviso (with a head shaped like Belgian endive) and radicchio di Chioggia (with a tight red-and-white cabbage shaped head).
Both are named after towns in the Veneto region.
There are other varieties such as Castelfranco, a mottled green radicchio flecked with red, that unfurls like a rose and the tardivo di Treviso, a late maturing radicchio with thin, curled leaves that's appreciated for its sweetness.
In Italy the first appearance of radicchio each fall is reason for celebration and the winter harvest is cause for "expositions" and competitions.
The radicchio color is vibrant, the texture is smooth, the taste is refined and sophisticated, but above all, is extremely versatile.
Radicchio can be used in salads, grilled, sautéed, mixed into pasta and risottos, deep fried and dipped into bagna cauda (a hot dip-anchovy base, from Piedmont).
Most surprising, the radicchio we eat in the United States do not come from Italy but from Central California, northeast of Monterey in the Salinas Valley. About 4,000 acres are dedicated to the growing of radicchio, producing millions of heads each year.