Radicchio, mascarpone and walnut cream

radicchio-cream with mascarpone and walnuts

Of all the vegetables, radicchio just has to be the prettiest of all, don’t you agree?

I have always loved gnarly Florentine tomatoes and purple-tinged artichokes too, but they’re beautiful for their rustic, imperfect nature. Radicchio, on the other hand, looks like each leaf was painted by an artist. Have you seen the ones with watercolour-washed, pale pink leaves, the ones with almost-white leaves splattered in magenta, Jackson Pollock style, or the impossible, curly-fingered late radicchio from Treviso? Pure art.

I love radicchio simply as is, in its own salad, maybe with some blood orange pieces and a few taggiasche olives or thinly sliced, raw fennel, but this week I wanted to make a creamy, versatile sauce from it too. There’s a bar near my mother in law’s place that we often stop by for a well-made spritz and a simple aperitivo of various flavoured sauces and dips with toasted crostini. Our favourite is the crema di radicchio. I suspect, from its richness, that it is made with a lot of mayonnaise and is probably store bought too, but it gave me the idea to try a homemade one, a more refined one, with more radicchio for colour and flavour and mascarpone instead of mayonnaise for subtle, sweet creaminess to complement radicchio’s bitterness. 

radicchio-IMG_3606

The ingredients are simple — radicchio, mascarpone, walnuts, a squeeze of lemon juice. The colour becomes more intense if you let it sit overnight. I promise the surreal colour you see in these photos is real life.

You can use this cream like a dip for raw vegetables or grissini, spread it onto sandwiches — it’s lovely with ham, speck, or slices of brie and a few more walnuts crumbled over it, or even on its own, with more fresh radicchio leaves. You can even toss it through hot pasta with a splash of the pasta cooking water and let the warmth melt it into a beautiful sauce.

radicchio cream with mascarpone and walnutsradicchio spread Emiko Davies

Radicchio, mascarpone and walnut cream
Crema di radicchio, mascarpone e noci

If you can’t get reliably good mascarpone where you are, try it homemade — it’s deliciously easy and all you need is cream and lemon, directions are within the text of this mascarpone and speck pizza recipe. If you are making this for a dip or sandwich spread, you could also use thick natural yogurt (like Greek yogurt) or cream cheese instead of mascarpone, but I insist, for pasta sauce, try the mascarpone, otherwise (if you can get it) stracchino, a creamy, very fresh cheese, or robiola, from the same cheese family are great, creamy options. You can use pine nuts instead of the walnuts. The lemon juice here helps enhance and preserve that beautiful colour so don’t leave it out.

Makes about 1 cup

1 small head of radicchio
1 garlic clove, peeled but whole
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
good pinch of salt
20 grams of walnut kernels (a couple of spoonfuls)
4 tablespoons of mascarpone

Peel off any rough outer leaves of the radicchio and discard. Chop the base of the radicchio head off and wash the leaves and roughly chop them. No need to dry them.

Place the garlic clove and olive oil in a pan and heat gently, allowing the oil to infuse with the garlic without browning too quickly. After a few minutes of gentle sizzling, you should begin to smell the garlic and it will be golden. Remove it and add the radicchio, the lemon juice and salt and toss for a few minutes over medium heat or until the radicchio begins to wilt.

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Blend the radicchio in a food processor along with the nuts until smooth. Once completely cool, stir through the mascarpone and taste for seasoning — you may like an extra squeeze of lemon, a bit more salt or some freshly ground pepper.

Serve immediately if you like, though it tends to gain a burst of colour when left overnight. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the fridge.

radicchio spread with walnuts

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Comments

6 Responses to “Radicchio, mascarpone and walnut cream”
  1. kate says:

    Emiko, this is beautiful! And sounds delicious too. The next time I see radicchio at the market I know exactly what I’ll be doing with it x

  2. Katie says:

    Gorgeous! I like to do a “bruschetta bar” for entertaining, and we’re about to do our first since moving to Italy. I can’t wait to visit the farmer’s market tomorrow, and this spread will be a gorgeous addition to the selection of toppings. If I use pine nuts instead, should I still use 20 grams? Grazie!

  3. Ellen says:

    I agree that radicchio looks like each piece has been hand painted. The color is so intense; it must be so good for us and the perfect winter vegetable. Thanks for another beautiful post!

  4. Lonielle says:

    I love this so much! I have not eaten radicchio much because I never know what will make it shine best. Can’t wait to try it out in this recipe!

  5. Lindsay Nolan says:

    Hello,

    Have you ever done a post on raising kids in Italy? My husband and I are from New York ( long island, actually) and we have 2 kids ages 7 & 10. We dream about relocating and experiencing Europe as a family but wonder about all those details that would make it possible.

    Would love to hear your thoughts

    thanks, Lindsay

  6. Belle says:

    It would never have occurred to me to use radicchio in this way, and now I can’t wait to make this recipe! It sounds absolutely delicious, and the color is stunning.

    I also love Katie’s idea of a “bruschetta bar”!

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