Stirring Radicchios in Risotto

January 2, 2020

It’s hard for me to accept that some people just can’t stomach radicchio because I love it so much that I stock my fridge with it at all times. I believe that its bitterness, along with its magnificent magenta tone, is its unique beauty.

For those of you who aren’t radicchio fans, I wonder if you have ever tried it cooked? In creamy risotto? With butter? And homemade chicken broth? And Parmigiano Reggiano?

I first ate radicchio risotto prepared by family friend Jeff Thickman, a private chef to the Florentine nobility. (Yes, there’s still nobility in Italy although many of them have run out of money because of a congenital aversion to work.) Anyway, it’s unheard-of for an American — from Wyoming, no less! — to become a prestigious chef in any Italian city. But Thickman’s a remarkable character. While getting a doctorate in musicology from Columbia, his professor told him he should play piano with the passion he had for baking cakes. And that was it. In that moment, Thickman understood his true calling and became a chef.

I met Thickman in a World War II-era hospital in Florence, while I was waiting for an appendectomy. My mother knew him through the ever-exciting game of Jewish geography and asked him to visit me while she booked a flight. Tired, bloated and with horribly greasy, unwashed hair, I welcomed him onto the ward and we became fast friends. After I recovered, he invited me to his best friend Elisabetta’s house, which happened to be a medieval tower on a private beach on the Tuscan coastline. This kind of thing happens in Italy.

Thickman made us the most delicious risotto. I’m not sure I even really had an appreciation for risotto before that. His secret: Use lots of radicchio, cut it very finely and let it cook down for as long as you have the patience. Use only homemade broth if you want the full effect, and don’t ever stop stirring the rice.

Prepared with red wine, this risotto takes on a deep purple color. Try it — this could be your chance to fall in love with radicchio.

Radicchio Risotto
from “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen

8 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth (recipe follows)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium heads of radicchio, cored and cut into 1-inch strips
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1 cup red or white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
Freshly grated black pepper

Chicken Broth
3 pounds chicken necks and backs (if necks and backs are unavailable, use wings and legs)
2 whole onions
4 to 5 whole garlic cloves
3 whole carrots
3 to 4 celery stalks
2 bay leaves
5 to 6 peppercorns
1 large handful flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt

For the broth:

Place all ingredients in a stockpot and add enough water to cover. (No need to chop anything.)

Bring water to a boil, cover and simmer slowly for at least a couple of hours or all day. Skim off any unappealing foam.

Let cool.

Season well with salt. If not tasty, add more salt. (see note)

Once cooled, it can be refrigerated. If desired, skim off fat the next day.

Makes 3 quarts.

For the risotto:

In large saucepan, bring broth to a gentle simmer. Make sure it’s seasoned with salt.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.

Add the onion and sauté́ until translucent.

Add the radicchio and stir for a few minutes until it’s coated in oil and slightly wilted. Cover, lower heat to medium low and cook for 30 minutes, checking every so often to stir.

Uncover, increase heat to medium/medium high, and let any water remaining from the radicchio evaporate.

Add rice and stir. After rice becomes translucent, 2 to 3 minutes, add 2 big glugs of wine, about 1 cup. Let it evaporate.

After the wine is absorbed and evaporated, add 2 ladles of broth, about 1 1/2 cups at a time. Stir the risotto (with a wooden spoon) constantly from this point on.

After the liquid is completely absorbed, add another ladle or so of broth, until the rice is well covered. Continue like this, stirring constantly, adding broth only when the previous ladle of broth has fully evaporated and the rice softens but is still al dente, about 20 minutes.

Off the heat, add the remaining butter, both cheeses and an extra ladle of broth. Stir and let it sit for a minute or two. The consistency of the risotto should be like porridge, and if you tilt the pan, it should flow like a wave.

To serve, place immediately on individual plates, topping with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino Romano, and fresh ground pepper.

Serves 4 to 6.

Make-ahead prep: Onion and radicchio can be cooked in advance. Then restart the process by adding the rice in step 6.

Note: This recipe doesn’t call for salt because the saltiness should come from the broth. Taste the broth to make sure it has enough kosher salt. This amount of broth (8 cups) will need about 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. If your broth isn’t salty enough, your risotto will suffer. Remember that the addition of cheese also will add saltiness.

Elana Horwich is the author of “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen” and the founder of the Meal and a Spiel cooking school.

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