A familiar ingredient in Italian cuisine, radicchio is a favorite of Michael Scognamiglio, owner/chef of the prominent Mount Pleasant restaurant BACCO. “Italian food and culture were huge parts of my life growing up,” says Scognamiglio, whose father was from Venice.
Radicchio originated in the Veneto region of Italy, Scognamiglio explains. The two most common varieties are named after the towns of Chioggia (those with tight, round, magenta-colored centers resembling baby red cabbages), and Treviso (those with elongated, looser heads of the same color). And while both work in the radicchio-centric recipes from the BACCO kitchen, Chioggia is easier to skewer, he advises.
For a local harvest, the chef joined horticulturist Jim Martin at his boutique farm, Compost in My Shoe. “The cultivar Chioggia is an old, Italian heirloom variety that doesn’t grow uniformly in our Lowcountry environment,” Martin says. Instead, he grows Indigo radicchio. It’s close to Chioggia in taste and appearance, having the same green outer leaves enclosing a round purple-red head. (Martin’s produce is available through a weekly CSA farm share, GrowFood Carolina, and at farmers markets.)
Because it’s a member of the red chicory family of bitter greens, radicchio is often an acquired taste. “For someone who may be hesitant to use the vegetable, the radicchio in saor is a great entry,” Scognamiglio says. “The sweet ingredients counter its bitterness, and the different textures distract the palate. But at the same time, the radicchio is subtle and present.” He spreads the classic Venetian sweet-and-sour dish on baguette slices for an appetizing antipasto.
Scognamiglio grills marinated pork tenderloin, chicken thighs, and quartered heads of radicchio for his grigliata mista. “The earthy marinade rounds out the strong flavor the grill brings to the meats, while the wilted grilled radicchio brings a bite,” he says. Serve with salsa rustica for a fantastic family-style meal.
The ingredients in Scognamiglio’s risotto con radicchio are uncomplicated, as is the risotto itself, cooked with water instead of a broth. This is typically Italian, he says. “The bitterness of the radicchio, the saltiness of the pancetta, and the sweetness and brightness of the apple are all in balance.”
Dishing It Up with Chef Michael Scognamiglio
RESTAURANT: BACCO Italian Restaurant
FIRST F&B GIG: “Washing dishes at the Holiday Inn on Folly Beach for a few months before getting promoted to work on the line”
EDUCATION: College of Charleston with a business administration degree
FAVORITE LOCAL INGREDIENT: “Fish such as sheepshead, banded rudderfish, Spanish mackerel, pufferfish, and porgy are all great tasting and don’t get the credit they deserve.”
RECIPE HE'LL NEVER SHARE: “My pizza dough”