Angelina & son Neno in garden
Angelina & son Neno in garden



Radicchio & rucola

The most common salad we ate was radicchio, tomatoes and a little rucola, all fresh from the garden. The dressing was never anything but oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. We never got tired of this combination, but sometimes for variety we added onion and a cucumber from the garden.

This sounds pretty standard nowadays, but (1) my family pronounces the main ingredient in the Venetian-Friulian manner (ra-DEE-chee-o, instead of the “standard” Italian ra-DEE-kee-o) and (2) we were referring to green leaves, not red, which grew individually, not bunched in a head. When (rarely) referring to or eating the variety with red and white leaves, my family would call it “radicchio di treviso” or just “treviso” but, to us, plain, old radicchio was green. And since my great grandmother Catherine Bellese, living with us, and my grandmother Angelina Bellese Mazzer were from Treviso, in the part of Italy where many of these varieties originated, they knew what they were talking about. Of course, these are all varieties of chicory, so there may be differences of opinion. The same goes for the arugula we grew: we call it “rucola”.

We always grew at least one big bed of radicchio. We starting picking off leaves from one end of the bed while they still were young and tender. Each day we (whoever had the chore) worked our way down the bed, picking enough for the salad, and by the time you got to the end of it in a week or so, there was a new growth of leaves back at the beginning.

Each new growth was a bit tougher and more bitter than the last. I guess this is an acquired taste, but most of us loved the bitterness. But by the end of summer the leaves were too bitter for a salad. Then my grandmother would sauté them for a long time with garlic. Even sautéed the radicchio was bitter, but the garlic would bring out some sweetness, and the dish had a somewhat nutty taste (to me).

Nothing went to waste. When the plants went to seed, the seeds were saved for the next year.

2 thoughts on “Salad

  1. what is the Italian green leaf radicchio called in English, so I can purchase seeds. I know the young plant is sweet and older leafs are somewhat bitter. No one in my family remembers the English name. Thank you.

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