Risotto, as we all know, is an almost infinitely variable dish. You can pair rice with almost any meat, fish, vegetable or even fruit. One of the very finest ways to make risotto is with radicchio, whose mildly bitter flavor makes it a wonderful foil for the bland, almost sweet flavor of rice. It may not be the prettiest risotto, but it is one of the most delicious and satisfying.
You begin with a soffritto of pancetta, onion and/or shallots (I prefer the shallots with radicchio). Be generous with the onion or shallots—their sweetness will balance the bitterness of the radicchio. When the aromatics are well softened and reduced, add very thinly sliced radicchio (a “chiffonade” as it is called in culinary lingo), mix well and allow the radicchio to wilt and absorb the flavor of the soffritto. When the radicchio is well wilted—it will have darkened in color considerably too—add the rice and proceed in the usual manner to finish the risotto—except that you may want to use red wine, rather than the usual white, to moisten the rice after it has been toasted. Beef broth is preferable to chicken broth. And I like to add a nut of sweet butter as well as a generous amount of grated parmesan cheese during the mantecatura. Many recipes call for a five minute ‘rest’ for the risotto before serving.
There are any number of possible variations to this dish. If you want a vegetarian dish, then omit the pancetta from the soffritto and use vegetable broth (or lightly salted water) instead of broth. If, on the other hand, you want an even more substantial dish that could be a one-course meal, you can add pieces of sausage it to the soffritto or, even better, brown them separately in olive oil and fold them into the finished dish. Radicchio marries well with cheese, which is why I like to add extra grated parmesan in the final stages, but you can also take it up a notch and add other, creamy cheeses like taleggio or—a common pairing—gorgonzola. Although not very orthodox, I also sometimes add a bit of cream, either in addition to or instead of cheese, which has the effect of softening the bitterness of the radicchio, as well as providing a smooth, creamy texture.