In the region of Veneto and along the Po Valley, each town has their own unique variety of radicchio– usually named after their respective cities. The round radicchio you mainly find grocery stores is called Radicchio Chioggia, and comes from the Italian city of Chioggio. Radicchio Treviso comes from Treviso. And of course, Radicchio Castelfranco is from– you guessed it– Castelfranco.

Radicchio has been around for quite some time: Pliny mentions the marvelous red-lined lettuces of the Veneto region in his “Naturalis Historia,” noting that in addition to being tasty, they also aid in insomnia and blood purification. He also says it was the Egyptians who bred radicchio from its wilder ancestor, chicory.

The castelfranco’s leaves are creamy white with variations ranging from light violet to wine red, distributed uniformly over the entire surface. This is a result of a special and complex natural growing process called imbiancamento. This process distinguishes Castelfranco from similar produce and gives it its specific form, color and flavor.

This method, developed in the 1860s by Belgian agronomist Francesco Van Den Borre, is quite involved. First, the plants are harvested in late fall, their outer leaves are trimmed and discarded, then theyre packed into wire mesh baskets, and stored for several days in darkened sheds with their roots bathed in steadily circulating spring water at a temperature of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As they bathe, the leaves take on the pronounced wine-red color. At this point, the farmer unties the bunches, strips away the outer leaves and, trims the root and sends the radicchio to the market.

The central leaves of the Radicchio Castelfranco do not close in a tight ball but stay in an erect or wide open position. The leaves resemble rose petals as they bloom like flower. For this reason, some refer to Castelfranco as an edible flower.

Because of its taste, beauty, and signature leaves, the Castelfranco can bring something to a wide variety of dishes. You can use it for a splash of  color in fresh salads, or add its slightly bittersweet flavor and soft buttery leaves to a pasta dish.