The most precious jewels of the horticulture in the Veneto region are without doubt the two types of ‘radicchio’ which are all too often confused between themselves: the radicchio from Treviso, and the one known as the ‘striped’ radicchio from Castelfranco. To these must be added other famous products such as asparagus, celery and the cherries from Bassano del Grappa, the cherries and the ‘Negrar’ type from the whole of the Valpolicella, the peas from Lumignano (indispensable in the preparation of the dish “risi e bisi”, a soup which is almost a risotto), which is a small country ward of Longare in the Vicentino (the region around Vicenza), the pumpkins from Chioggia and surrounding area, the artichokes all around the lagoon which are known as “castraure”, when they are small because they are the new growths which are found in the Spring: they are very tender and can be eaten raw. The use of artichoke hearts is also typical and these can be found already prepared at the greengrocers’, kept in water mixed with lemon. When the artichokes are very large, their leaves are removed and only the heart at the bottom is used. Cooked in the pan with garlic and parsley , they are very tasty and delicate.
A typical product from the hills are the beans from Lamon which are grown at a height of about 600-700 metres (approx. 2,000 feet); they have adapted to the environment and have developed four basic varieties protected by the Protected Denomination of Origin guarantee: the “spagnol”, fleshy with red streaks, ideal for salads; the “spagnolet” the most well known and popular, with bright red streaks on a cream-coloured background, with a fire-red coloured husk; the “canolega”, the biggest of them, ideal for the preparation of soups, with a particular flavour reminiscent of sweet chestnuts: the “canalino”, grown less since it has a thick skin, but good for making bean purées.
The ideal recipe for the “spagnolet” type of beans from Lamon is simply to boil them and dress them with a thread of ‘extra-virgin’ olive oil, salt and pepper. The addition of a measured quantity of raw, white onion rings exalts their extraordinary qualities. Amongst the qualities of these beans is the skin which covers them, which is so thin and fragile that it opens up at the first breath if one blows on them to cool them.
As far as radicchio, is concerned, now well known in the whole of Italy, it is best to make some distinctions.
The red ‘radicchio’ from Treviso, a Protected Denomination of Origin product, a safeguard which covers the two types of this vegetable, the ‘tardivo’ (the ‘late’) and the ‘precoce’ (the ‘early’), which have well-defined characteristics. The ‘tardivo’ may have the smaller head, never, however, less than 100 g (3 ½ oz), with red-wine coloured leaves with a white rib and which tend to close up at the apex, and roots which are not longer than six centimetres (2 ½”). The taste of the rib of the leaf is bitter. The ‘precoce’ has leaves with a much more accentuated principal nervation than that of the ‘tardivo’ type, white in colour with thin ramifications over the leaf. This type is larger, the head is voluminous, long and closed, with fairly small roots. The minimum weight must not be below one hundred and fifty grams (5 oz). The flavour of the leaves is bitter, but less so than the ‘tardivo’ type.
The zone of the red ‘radicchio’ includes a limited number of ‘comuni’ (communes or municipalities) in the province of Treviso, amongst which Treviso itself, Mogliano Veneto, Ponzano veneto, Preganziol and Zero Branco, and also the ‘comuni’ of Piombino d'Este e Trebaseleghe in the province of Padua and those of Martellago, Mirano, Noale and Scorze' in the province of Venice.
The ‘radicchio’ ‘precoce’ has a more extended zone of production, still in the same area, but with a considerably larger number of ‘comuni’.
The times for harvesting are different. The ‘precoce’ type is cut in October; it is larger and better looking, but less prized. The ‘tardivo’ is harvested in November and, in any case, not before it has experience the frosts at the beginning of the winter.
A classic and particular salad vegetable, ‘radicchio’ in its two versions can be used in an infinite number of dishes. There is even a whole recipe book dedicated to it: amongst the better known dishes, mention should be made of grilled ‘radicchio’, that of the salad with lard, the ‘radicchio’ risotto and various soups.
There is also the striped ‘radicchio’ from Castelfranco which is also safeguarded by the Protected Denomination of Origin. This is distinguished from the Treviso ‘radicchio’ by its head, which has a minimum diameter of fifteen centimetres, with leaves around the outside which are flat, and then which become more curved in towards the heart of the ‘radicchio’ .The leaves are creamy white and covered with streaks going from a light purple to a bright red colour. Every head has a minimum weight of one hundred grams (3 ½ oz), the flavour of the leaves goes from being sweet to being lightly and pleasantly bitter.
The zone of production is in numerous ‘comuni’ around Castelfranco Veneto in the province of Treviso; furthermore, in the province of Padua, the area reaches as far as the Euganean Hills, including areas such as Battaglia Terme, Monselice, Montagnana, Montegrotto Terme, and in the province of Venice, in some bordering ‘comuni’ like Martellago, Mira e Mirano.
The Castelfranco striped ‘radicchio’ has the same uses as the Treviso ‘radicchio’: it can be used in a risotto, in preparations in the pan sautéed with garlic in oil or lard.