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How to grow radicchio – the jewel winter crop

Radicchio seeds mix from Suttons

You’ll recognise radicchio, or red chicory, as that flash of vibrant colour often found in a shop-bought bag of mixed salad leaves. A wonderful autumn/winter veg that can be eaten raw or cooked, it’s straightforward to grow and well worth the effort. Here’s how to grow this colourful winter crop… 

How to grow radicchio salad leaves

If you want to grow radicchio for young salad leaves, you can sow the seed in a greenhouse from February through to October. Chicory ‘Rossa di Treviso Precoce’ is a good variety to try. As the seedlings emerge, thin them to 5cm apart as they won’t require very much space. Your mini-leaves will be ready about four-six weeks after sowing, giving you a crop that lasts almost all year round. 

How to grow heads of radicchio

Head of radicchio leaves
Radicchio leaves get redder as days shorten and the temperature drops
Image: Floramedia

Sow radicchio seeds from April to July, scattering them thinly onto finely raked, warm, weed-free, moist soil at a depth of 6-12mm. Radicchio grows best in well-cultivated soil and germination typically takes 8-20 days. When the seedlings are big enough to handle, thin them out, leaving around 20cm between plants. From sowing to cropping takes around 14-16 weeks. 

You’ll know your plant is ready for harvest when it has formed a firm reddish/purple head, a bit like a cabbage. Simply take a sharp knife and cut the head off at ground level and store it in the fridge where it will keep fresh for a week or longer. If you leave the stump in the ground after cutting, it sometimes produces a second, smaller head.

The less you water your radicchio, the more bitter its leaves will be. This being the case, you should water freely, especially during dry spells. You’ll also notice that the beautiful red colouration becomes more pronounced as the days begin to shorten and your plants are exposed to cold. 

Ways to eat radicchio

Radicchio Variegata di Castelfranco from Suttons
Radicchio makes a colourful winter salad 
Image: Radicchio Variegata di Castelfranco from Suttons

Radicchio is a versatile crop that can be eaten raw or cooked. Its bitterness works as a great contrast to sweeter flavours like balsamic vinegar, pears and mango, making for a colourful winter salad. For extra depth add some blue cheese and a handful of walnuts or hazelnuts. Other ingredients that work well with radicchio include cranberries, peaches, orange, roasted squash, game and beef.

For an Italian-style winter warmer, shred your radicchio and fry it in oil or butter. Season, add a splash of balsamic vinegar then stir into cooked pasta and top with grated cheese. Alternatively, take a basic risotto and accent it, adding finely sliced radicchio leaves about 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Next, sprinkle in grated parmesan and stir until it melts. The result is comfort food at its best.

Radicchio really is a jewel of a winter crop that adds a jazzy splash of colour to a winter salad. For more advice on winter gardening, read our guide all about planning your winter veg patch.

Lead image: Radicchio seeds mix from Suttons/Copyright: Floramedia

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