Radicchio Risotto

How much respect do you give radicchio? Probably not much, but that ought to change.

I never thought much about it before last year. On our last big grocery run to Italy, it refused to be ignored. We were in the major radicchio production region at peak harvest, so it was everywhere. And with good reason! I’d always thought of it as that bitter, purple and white stuff you threw in a salad to brighten it up and nothing more. But it’s a not just any lettuce, it’s a chicory and can be cooked. It takes on a bit more sweetness as it wilts, while retaining some of the characteristic bitterness. And in this recipe from Serious Eats (with the requisite tweaks), it’s paired with pancetta. You could probably use regular bacon, but if you can get your hands on the pancetta, it’s worth it.

4 T olive oil
100 g (1/4 lb) pancetta, chopped into lardons
2 heads Chioggia radicchio, cored and chopped to bite-size
salt & pepper to taste
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
500 g (2 c) risotto rice
3/4 c white wine
5 c hot chicken broth
2 T butter
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

In a deep skillet, heat 2 T olive oil over medium-low heat. Add pancetta and fry until beginning to crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Next add radicchio by the handful, stirring each addition to coat with fat. When all radicchio is in, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and set aside (or transfer radicchio mixture to a warm bowl and wipe out skillet if you want to use the same pan).

Heat the other 2 T olive oil to medium-low in a deep, wide skillet. Add shallots and garlic and cook until just translucent, then add rice and stir to coat with fat, cooking for about 2-3 minutes. Add wine and stir frequently until mostly absorbed, then start adding your chicken broth (it should be at a gentle simmer) by the ladleful. Stir after each broth addition and when almost completely absorbed, add the next. When you’ve added half the broth, stir the radicchio-pancetta mixture in the risotto.

Finish adding the broth by the ladleful. With the last addition, remove from heat, stir in butter and cheese and cover for 5 minutes. Serve with extra cheese or a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.