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Rosalba radicchio is a full, loose head made up of many layers of thin, green and pink leaves connected to a single, white base. The outer leaves are generally light green while the interior leaves develop a soft, rose pink hue with a smooth, tender, and crisp consistency. In the center of each leaf, a prominent white mid-rib extends into smaller veins across the leaf’s surface and has a firm, crunchy, and aqueous consistency. Rosalba radicchio, depending on cultivation methods, generally has a sweet, floral, and slightly bitter taste and is known for being less bitter than other radicchio varieties. In the final stages of cultivation, the radicchio can be left to mature in soil, developing a crisp consistency, or it can be moved to a dark environment creating a silkier texture similar to butter lettuce.
Rosalba radicchio is available in the winter through spring.
Rosalba radicchio, botanically classified as Cichorium intybus, is a variety of chicory that belongs to the Asteraceae family. The pink-hued cultivar is also known as Pink chicory, Pink lettuce, and Rosa radicchio, and is highly favored for its delicate texture, subtly bitter-sweet flavor, and light pink hues. Rosalba radicchio is still considered somewhat rare as it is not commercially cultivated, but the pink variety is developing an increasing presence at farmer's markets around the world. Pink radicchio varieties are also experiencing a surge in popularity through social media. Chefs are using Rosabla to showcase their creativity, and the light pink tones provide a natural, eye-catching visual to develop unique dishes.
Rosalba radicchio is an excellent source of vitamin K, which promotes bone health and is a good source of vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant to repair the body against damage inflicted by external environmental aggressors. The leaves also provide minerals such as copper, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron.
Rosalba radicchio is best suited for raw applications as the pink hues and subtly bitter flavor are showcased when consumed fresh. The leaves have a sturdy texture, which allows them to be used as bite-sized lettuce cups on appetizer plates, and they can also be torn into salads, mixed into grain bowls, tossed into pasta, and utilized as an edible garnish. The most popular fresh method in Italy is to dress the leaves in olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. In addition to raw preparations, Rosalba radicchio can be stir-fried, grilled, or sautéed to develop sweet and tangy notes. The soft, crisp leaves can be baked into casseroles, served with roasted meats, steamed and served as a side dish, or grilled for a smoky flavor. They can also be incorporated into desserts such as tarts and cakes. Rosalba radicchio pairs well with sausage, fruits such as pears, apples, oranges, and grapefruit, cheeses such as goat, gorgonzola, parmesan, and blue, red onions, green beans, mushrooms, and nuts such as pine, walnuts, and almonds. The fresh heads will keep up to one week when wrapped in a paper towel and loosely stored whole and unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
In Canada, radicchio varieties are celebrated at the annual Vancouver Radicchio Festival. The event was created to highlight the unique cultivars that are grown locally in the surrounding regions around Vancouver and growers, chefs, and enthusiasts gather together to celebrate the bitter greens. During the festival, visitors can sample radicchio varieties such as Rosalba, and attend cooking demonstrations, educational talks, and networking events to learn about the future of radicchio cultivation.
Pink radicchio is native to northern Italy, and while the exact date of origin is unknown, many of the varieties have been cultivated in Veneto since the 15th century. Today Rosalba radicchio is primarily found through local markets in Italy and is grown on a smaller scale in southern France. The variety is also exported from Italy to other regions of Europe and into the United States. Outside of Europe, Rosalba radicchio is cultivated through select specialty farmers and home gardeners in the United States and Canada.