Califonia Bountiful

Turning over a new leaf

Mar./Apr. 2009 California Country magazine

Radicchio isn't just a salad ingredient. It's the symbol for one family's history. The Marchinis share their story and a recipe.

In Watsonville, radicchio is more than just an ingredient to a salad. It's the symbol for one family's unique history.

It all began in the early 1900s when Florindo Marchini made the long and uncertain trip to California from Italy, bringing with him an entrepreneurial spirit and a love for farming—both of which he passed on to his son, Joe.

A farmer at heart, Joe always liked to grow vegetable varieties that no one else had—and he found a winner with radicchio, a leafy vegetable known for its sharp flavor. He experimented at first in his backyard and then hit it big with the salad revolution in the 1980s. Pretty soon Joe was the nation's first radicchio farmer and the man who put J. Marchini Farms on the map.

"Companies like Fresh Express, Ready Pac and big lettuce growers who had been doing the whole-head business said, 'Let's cut it up, mix it together and sell it.' And we were lucky enough to have radicchio included in that mix," said Marc Marchini, Joe's grandson.

Native to Italy, radicchio remains popular there but continues to gain fans in the United States. Chefs use the vegetable to add complexity and a deeper flavor to a variety of dishes—from soups to risottos. As for the Marchini family, Marc says that while they always add radicchio to salads, they also love to grill it.

"Grilled radicchio is a great side with any barbecued steak, pork or chicken," he said, adding a recommendation to serve the meal with a bold red wine.

Here is the Marchini family's recipe. For more recipes, visit

Marchini family's barbecued radicchio (Nonno's way)

Serves 2

1 head radicchio
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar

Cut radicchio in half and drizzle olive oil over flat side. Dash with salt, pepper and vinegar to taste. Heat a barbecue or grill to medium heat. Place radicchio face down on the hot grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over to cook the other side, about the same amount of time. Radicchio is done cooking when leaves have changed from a purple to a dark, brownish color. Remove core before serving.

Tracy Sellers and Barbara Arciero are reporters for the California Farm Bureau Federation. They can be reached at

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