Ode to the Rosa di Gorizia courtesy of Rosenbar Restaurant
In the dead of winter, when all else struggles to bloom, the Rosa di Gorizia is the first “flower” to appear in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. I’m talking about a local variety of red radicchio (Cichorium intybus) that has been cultivated in and around Gorizia for centuries and which resembles a budding rose. Peak season for the “Regina dell’inverno” (the Winter Queen) is January through February and in Gorzia they hold their annual festival or Sagra and restaurants around town turn out traditional and re-imagined recipes featuring this prized ingredient.
The Rosa di Gorizia is first mentioned in a book written in 1873 by Karl von Czoernig,(The Chief Statistician for the Austrian Empire) wherein he celebrates Gorizia as Austria’s Nice (as in France). In recent years the Rosa’s fame has spread throughout Europe thanks to a movement to designate the radicchio as a “protected” product of the region and it is now officially recognized by the Slow Food Presidium as a certified brand.
The hamlet of Gorizia lies on the northeastern corner of the region bordering Slovenia in an area known as the Collio, an area famous for its wines, produce and charcuterie products. This part of the region enjoys a particularly advantageous microclimate for growing produce and the cross cultural pollination it enjoys thanks to its border location has helped develop a wonderful and eclectic food and wine tradition.
The older farmers in the area recall having always produced this type of radicchio, as it was the only crop they had to sell in the winter months. According to the SlowFood Organization; In those days the farmers would plant the radicchio seeds under cereal crops so that at germination the radicchio would be protected from the heat of the sun by the seedlings of the cereals… the radicchio, in the face of a lower development of the leaf system, would develop a deep taproot which allowed it to overcome the frequent summer droughts. At the mowing of cereals, the radicchio would begin to rapidly develop its leaf system. Today, more modern cultivation techniques involve the use of precision seeders or transplanting the seedlings from seedbeds and so on.
In October, the rose reaches its optimal size and with the first frost, the color of the leaves turns from intense green to reddish. It prepares itself to face the winter by forming the heart which is protected by the largest external leaves which collapse above it protecting it from frost. At this stage it is ready for harvest which begins in late November. The farmers collect it in bunches or in boxes with the roots that are kept in open trenches in the field or in sheltered environments to protect it from the frost that would cause it to die… In fact, one producer (Massimo Santinelli of RosadiGorizia.com) has an air raid tunnel running through his property and that is where he relocates the crop until it is ready for market. All told, the growth period for this radicchio is from March to late December.
Before the Rosa arrives to market in January and February, it is groomed to reveal the heart and the circle of open petals. The resulting rose has an intense, slightly bitter flavor and crisp texture. The color is deep red, bright, with variegated shades towards pink or garnet red and it is one of the most appreciated (and expensive) radicchios in the world.
In the 1950s another variety was created by crossing the Rosa radicchio with a another variety, creating the Canarino (canary) radicchio, identical in all respects to the Rosa, except for the color, as it name suggests it is yellow with varying shades of red. The Canarino has spread to the local market and it is also gaining in popularity nationwide.
So how to prepare this delicacy? It is delicious served simply with a drizzle of good olive oil but it is so much more versatile than that. Locally it is served up in a salad with thin slices of apples or pear, crisp speck or pancetta and a hefty shaving of the local Montasio cheese on top. It is also used in risottos, or as a filling for ravioli or wilted and served with pasta and sausage and even made into pesto. Another well-loved local pairing is to serve it with the local cooked cheese, Frico or wilted and paired with soft boiled eggs. Some have even used it to flavor bitters and grappas. Is it pricey? Yes, but a little it goes a long way so it is within everyone’s reach.
Here is Chef Michela Fabbro of Rosenbar Restaurant in Gorizia demonstrating how to prepare the struccolo of Rosa. This is basically a potato gnocchi dough wrapped around a sautee of Rosa di Gorizia, rolled, wrapped in tin foil and boiled. Then it is sliced and served with melted butter and grated smoked ricotta cheese on top.(chef’s tip: hold onto the stems for making soup). (video courtesy of RAI TGR FVG)
Where to try the “Rosa”:
Giovedì 23 gennaio
Ristorante Rosenbar – via Duca d’Aosta, 96
(tel. 0481 522700)
Venerdì 24 gennaio
Trattoria Gostilna Primožič – viale XX Settembre, 134
(tel. 0481 82117)
Sabato 25 gennaio
Osteria Ca’ di Pieri – via Codelli, 5
(tel. 0481 533308)
Venerdì 31 gennaio
Trattoria Turri – piazza Sant’Andrea, 11
(tel. 0481 21856)
Sabato 6 febbraio
Antica Osteria Al Sabotino – via Santa Chiara, 4
(tel. 0481 538111)