If you’ve ever grown your own produce, you already know this: nature is mind blowing. Growing anything at all seems like a small miracle. Especially when it comes to the vast and varied (and variegated!) radicchio family. This past fall and winter, it was emotional to sow and tend the seeds, harvest the plants, then devour their bitter goodness in raw and cooked form. I want you to experience that joy, too. And you really can! My friend Lane Selman, who I first met years ago when I toured her around Rome, just launched a new radicchio seed initiative called the Gusto Italiano Project aimed at establishing Italian varieties as an anchor of the fall and winter produce season in North America.
Lane is one of the most tireless ambassadors for Italian heirloom produce I know. She grew up on a citrus farm her Sicilian great-grandparents planted in 1919 on Florida’s space coast so was naturally predisposed to a life celebrating agriculture. Now based in Oregon where she is a professor, she founded the Culinary Breeding Network in 2011 to build communities of plant breeders, seed growers, farmers, produce buyers, chefs and other stakeholders to improve quality in vegetables and grains.
I’ll let her tell you about the Gusto Italiano Project and how it all got started:
“It is quite exciting to introduce the ‘Gusto Italiano Project’ a new collaboration between Culinary Breeding Network, Uprising Seeds and northern Italian vegetable breeders and seed company, Smarties.bio. The project was born primarily from a mutual love of radicchio & a desire to bring it to the gardens and tables in the North America.
The story begins back in 2014 while I was in northern Italy as a Slow Food Terra Madre delegate. There, I met young aspiring Italian plant breeder Andrea Ghedina. At the time he was working at T&T Seeds (a highly regarded radicchio seed company) in Chioggia. I visited him there with two Oregon farmers in a quest to learn more about growing radicchio and in hopes of seeing the then elusive ‘Rosalba’ pink radicchio which was not yet a thing in the US and rarely seen outside northeastern Italy.
Andrea and his then colleague Samuele Pellegrini, now owner of the Italian Levantia Seed company, spent a full day with us visiting radicchio farms and packing houses. They took us to lunch where we could choose only between pasta or pizza. Memorable moments include being pulled over for speeding (Samuele talked himself out of a ticket), witnessing how super stylish Italian farm footwear is, and learning that Andrea loved American clam chowder and his favorite radicchio type is Verona. He showed us how Italians take the time to artistically open their Castelfranco heads leaf by leaf into a beautiful flower appearance.
It was a fantastic day even though we didn’t get to see any pink radicchio. I thought of Andrea every radicchio season afterward, but did not stay in touch, not until just before an Italian Radicchio Expedition I organized for American farmers and chefs in January 2020, when Andrea contacted me on Instagram. He had gone back to school to study radicchio breeding and had started his own company, Smarties.bio. He joined the group for the Radicchio Expedition with 22 American farmers, chefs and radicchio advocates eager to learn more about their favorite bitter vegetable. Over an epic lunch of 15 radicchio dishes in Chioggia, Andrea asked if I would be interested in forming a collaboration with Smarties.bio and Uprising Seeds to bring his seeds to the US market. The Gusto Italiano Project was born.
The project includes 15 varieties of radicchio (many affectionally named after beloved children, including ‘Pasqualino’ for my son, and referred to as the Radicchio Patch Kids) in a range of days-to-maturity slots including:
🌱Rosso di Chioggia (3 varieties)
🌱Rosso di Verona (2 varieties)
🌱Rosso di Treviso Precoce (2 varieties)
🌱Variegato di Castelfranco (3 varieties)
🌱Puntarelle di Galantina
🌱Variegato di Lusia
🌱Bianco di Chioggia
🌱Catalogna Gigante di Chioggia
🌱Rosa del Veneto
Based in Chioggia in the heart of radicchio’s motherland, Smarties exists at the meeting point of tradition and innovation bringing years of modern breeding experience to classic, culturally significant vegetables of their region. Theirs is the first complete line of radicchio available as Certified Organically grown and bred seed we know of. In addition, Smarties.Bio has initiated a “Biodiversity project” working to preserve locally and historically significant varieties with deep roots in small northern Italian farming communities. Uprising will be offering a leaf-broccoli known as “Broccolo Fiolaro di Creazzo”, a winter cabbage “Verza Moretta di Veronella” and two cauliflowers “Broccolo di Bassano” Precoce (late fall harvest) and Tardivo (overwinter harvest).
You can order seeds here and follow along on Instagram (@culinarybreedingnetwork @smarties.bio and @uprising.seeds for growing information, traditional recipes, cooking videos, and to join our community of radicchio lovers–and growers!”
Artwork by Italian artist Francesca Ballarini.