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Penne with Radicchio and Pancetta

June 2, 2010

While in Rome last September, the same restaurant that served one of the best Linguine con Vongole dishes I’ve ever tasted also served quite a memorable vegetarian pasta dish.  My husband actually ordered it, but of course, I had to have a taste.  The menu simply said “Penne al Radicchio” and it turned out to be a humble, cream-based dish that was a beautiful magenta hue due to the generous ration of shredded radicchio.  The dish is probably not for everyone but we liked it very much.  The bitter chicory still had a nice kick to it even though it had been slightly cooked down and tempered somewhat by the cream.  For months now I’ve been meaning to try this at home so I was happy to be able to cross this off my list, finally.

I’m learning that radicchio–and other members of the chicory family–are quite common in Italian cooking.  There are a few varieties, the most popular being the Radicchio Rosso.  Unlike the cabbage-shaped ones we are more familiar with, the Radicchio Rosso is shaped more like its paler cousin, the Belgian endive but still possesses the maroon leaves albeit with white veins.  Until that night in Rome, I’d only ever had radicchio grilled, roasted, or raw.  Having it in a pasta dish was a nice change.

The version we enjoyed in Rome was mildly rich due to the cream and while I don’t shy away from the latter when dining out, I always seem to pull back when I cook at home.  Perhaps I follow the adage “ignorance is bliss” but at home I can’t bring myself to add a cup of cream to a savory recipe.  Honestly, I’d rather have that much cream in the form of ice cream, right?  Hence, my version is a little different but the radicchio remains the star.

In my version, I used a combination of radicchio and Belgian endive, chicken stock, white wine, half-and-half and some pancetta.  I’m not sure that I reduced the calories and cholesterol by throwing in pancetta but you can humor me, yes?  Either way, the resulting dish was considerably lighter tasting but still flavorful.  The radicchio mellowed out from cooking and I probably should have added the other head I left out at the last minute.  Still, the wine added a level of complexity that preserved some of the strong notes of the vegetable.  The shallots and Belgian endive added sweetness, the fresh lemon juice a tart contrast and the pancetta a good dash of savory, salty, porky goodness.  I actually didn’t mix the pancetta into the entire dish since my husband didn’t want it, so I topped my plate with it.

I would definitely make this again.  Not one component overpowered the others; instead, they complemented each other really well.  I think this will be a good addition to my spring/summer pasta rotation.  Feel free to adjust the ingredients to your liking.  Of course, this will be my entry for Presto Pasta Nights.

Penne with Radicchio and Pancetta

  • 1 pound Penne
  • 1 head Radicchio, cut in quarters then sliced thinly
  • 1 Belgian endive, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup pancetta, cut in small cubes
  • 2 small shallots, chopped
  • Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Pinot Grigio or other white wine
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • Parmigiano Reggiano

Cook penne until al dente and set aside (or you can cook at the same time as the sauce like I do since this entire dish comes together so quickly).

In a large sauté pan, brown the pancetta pieces and set aside.  Discard most of the rendered fat leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pan.  Add some olive oil and saute the shallots on medium low heat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.  You can add the red pepper flakes if using.  Add the wine and allow to reduce for a couple of minutes.  Next, add the chicken stock and season with salt if you think it needs it.  At this point, I started squeezing a tablespoon of lemon juice at a time.

Add the radicchio, cover the pan and allow to cook for about five minutes.  This will cut most of the bitterness of the radicchio.  Next, add the cream and allow to heat up in the pan, add the Belgian endive and toss the pasta.  You can top with Parmigiano, the cooked pancetta and another squeeze of lemon juice.  Please note that the sauce won’t look sufficient in the pan but the ingredients combined will provide quite a bit of flavor without being too rich.  Enjoy!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2010 8:50 PM

    What a simple dish with SO much flavor! I am going to make this over the weekend for sure. Great recipe – thank you for sharing!

  2. June 2, 2010 11:50 PM

    What a lovely colorful dish. I bet it tastes so good!

  3. June 3, 2010 2:57 AM

    I do love it when a restaurant dish lingers in the mind and we have to try it ourselves. This one looks wonderful. thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  4. June 3, 2010 5:26 AM

    What a great idea, I really like the idea of Radicchio in pasta.

  5. June 3, 2010 6:09 AM

    Love how the raddichio and endive are only just barely cooked in this recipe… all the recipes I’ve seen that use cooked raddichio tend to cook it until it’s completely limp, which I’m not a big fan of. Can’t wait to give this one a try.

    • June 3, 2010 7:40 AM

      You know, I think I cooked them even longer than I should have but I did remember to set some uncooked radicchio aside and that worked.

  6. June 3, 2010 7:34 AM

    I love the maroon color of the radicchio. I never would have thought to add radicchio to pasta, but it sounds incredible! I’m with you on the cream, I’d much rather eat ice cream. Perhaps I should experiment more with savory cream dishes, starting with this one!

  7. June 3, 2010 7:44 AM

    That looks lovely. I love the color 😀

  8. June 3, 2010 8:50 AM

    Few ingredients, lots of flavor. It’s nice to bring home memories of a trip with a meal.

  9. June 3, 2010 8:56 PM

    I wish you had posted this back when I had a head of radicchio in my fridge that I was uninspired to use! I would have made this dish, it looks great~

  10. June 3, 2010 11:23 PM

    Gorgeous dish!!! you are making me hungry! I love radicchio and it’s used a lot in Italy, there are different kinds, like radicchio trevigiano (from Treviso), and is very common in the regions close to Venice, Friuli, etc… I love its bitterness, so addictive!

  11. trissalicious permalink
    June 4, 2010 6:22 AM

    I think I would have preferred your version to something laden in cream… yours looks healthy and not too cloyingly rich – and yes the radicchio (which I love) is indeed the star of this dish. By the way, THANK YOU very much for the lovely Sunshine award – coming from you, that’s great honour – especially since your blog is the one full of sunshine.

  12. June 4, 2010 12:04 PM

    I love the purple in this dish…I’m so big about color! And all the flavors melded together must taste divine. Thank you for sharing this dish…it has encouraged me to explore with some new vegetables and flavor combinations!

  13. June 4, 2010 12:16 PM

    The Radicchio gives it such a nice colour! Simple and delicious!

  14. June 4, 2010 1:40 PM

    I’ve never seen radicchio used like this but I have to say, I kind of love it. It is so incredibly aesthetically pleasing and if it was served in Rome then it must be good!

  15. June 4, 2010 2:40 PM

    I love the bright colors of this dish, and your photo looks great with the ‘matching’ tablecloth. 🙂 Greens in pasta are always flavorful, and I imagine the taste of the radicchio would really kick up the pasta!

  16. June 4, 2010 5:12 PM

    I don’t think I was ever disappointed with anything I got to eat in Italy, your pasta dish looks simply delicious!!

  17. June 4, 2010 7:38 PM

    Your penne with radicchio and pancetta looks incredible, I agree about the cream, the dish doesn’t need it with all your wonderful ingredients.

  18. June 4, 2010 9:50 PM

    Now this is a pretty pasta dish! I never think to use radicchio, but this is definitely going to change that mistake.

  19. June 5, 2010 9:11 AM

    This is one beautiful plate of pennee Though I tend to disagree with you about cream at home. I never lighten dishes, I’d rather just skip it if I am feeling like I can’t afford the calories at the moment. But this pasta has taught me that lightening can be successful. Thanks for the eye opener. GREG

    • June 5, 2010 9:25 AM

      Thanks, Greg. I totally hear you. I order cream dishes freely when dining out but I can’t do it at home. Part of the reason is that I have a husband who is not partial to them, so I have to compromise. I really like your blog–I already know I’ll be a regular visitor. Thanks again!

  20. June 5, 2010 1:49 PM

    Hi Jean, What a lovely pasta dish. It’s been years since I’ve been in Rome and the pasta you replicated looks absolutely delicious and makes me miss Italy. I love cream pastas too but I never make them at home but I’d like to try your recipe. Not sure my husband will enjoy radicchio but I’m sure he’ll live. 😉 BTW, I posted a link to your blog from my latest post mentioning the Sunshine Award. Thanks again. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!

  21. June 7, 2010 7:14 PM

    I almost never make cream pastas at home. Something about living by the beach and tons of permanently in-shape people make me wary. Normally, I stay away from half and half too but this recipe is going to be the exception. Especially since I have some homemade pancetta that will be perfect in it.


  1. Radicchio and Pancetta Pasta Recipe | Pasta Recipes - Easy and Healthy Italian Pasta Recipes

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