Pasta with radicchio, bacon and walnuts is a classic meal with a complex flavor and that Italian flair for tossing together something incredible with very little. This 30-minute meal is a must try.
My husband doesn’t like bacon (I know) so most of the 4 servings of this superb pasta went to yours truly. No complaints, this easy pasta recipe is now on my personal greatest hits list.
Hint: radicchio, bacon, and toasted walnuts is such a genius combo you might want to file it away for future recipes. It would make a fabulous salad, and you could substitute radicchio for cabbage in my Fried Cabbage and Bacon Slaw, yum. But I don’t take credit for the idea, it’s pure Italian. You might see similar recipes using pancetta, or hazelnuts…sometimes with a little cream or gorgonzola added, but the effect is always the same ~ pure heaven.
What is radicchio (aka Italian chicory)?
- Radicchio (ra-DEE-key-oh) is type of chicory with tightly packed leaves that are deep magenta with thick white veins, it’s beautiful!
- Radicchio comes in an oval or round shape and you’ll find it right in your produce aisle usually next to Belgian endive (another variety of chicory.) Did you know that dandelions are also part of the chicory family?
- Most of the world’s chicory comes from the Mediterranean region, and it’s super popular in Italy. But we grow lots of it right here in California, and it’s gaining in popularity all the time.
- Radicchio has a distinctive bitter flavor which I love. You can tamp down the bitterness by cooking or roasting it, and I love it both raw and cooked.
Why you should embrace bitter flavors
We humans are hardwired to reject super bitter flavors, but a little bitterness can make food like radicchio irresistible. Same for walnuts, grapefruit, coffee, and darkest chocolate. Bitter flavors bring excitement to recipes and create complexity as they balance out other elements like sweetness and acidity.
Bitter flavors can take a little getting used to, but once you acclimate your palate, you’ll start to seek them out.
Why this recipe works
This recipe relies on very few ingredients, but each one contributes so much to the dish:
- radicchio ~ bitter and slightly spicy, the barely cooked leaves add great texture and freshness. I don’t cook the radicchio, the heat of the pan wilts it just enough while preserving the color, crunch, and flavor.
- bacon ~ salty, fatty, and smokey ~ who can argue with that?
- toasted walnuts, if you haven’t discovered them already, are utterly dreamy.
- a firm shaped pasta like busiate gives that great satisfying carby ‘chew’ to the dish. Sub in penne, fusilli, or another favorite ‘short’ pasta shape.
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Pasta with Radicchio, Bacon, and Walnuts
- 3 thick slices bacon
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 small head radicchio, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
- 8 ounces pasta, I used Busiati, but any other shape will work. Penne or fusilli will be fine.
- 1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted in a 350F oven to 10-15 minutes, then chopped
- 1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Cut the bacon in small slices and cook in a dutch oven or large skillet until the fat has renedered and the bacon is crisp. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper to the pan and saute for a minute more.
- Add the radicchio to the pot, stir, and turn off the heat.
- Meanwhile cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until just al dente.
- Scoop the cooked pasta right into the sauce, don't worry if a little cooking water comes along for the ride, it will help make the sauce. Toss well and add the walnuts and cheese. At this point you can add a little more pasta water if it seems too dry. Season with fresh cracked pepper if needed.
- Serve immediately in shallow bowls, topped with more cheese, if you like.