If you went to Rome in January, you’d be hard pressed not to find puntarelle on every trattoria menu. That’s because this plant is very special to Romans—the vegetable has a very short growing season, and it is typical of the region around Rome. Puntarelle actually refers to just a part of the vegetable, specifically the inner stalks of the Catalonian chicory. The stalks are thinly sliced and dressed in a punchy anchovy vinaigrette to make a savory and salty salad that pairs perfectly with heavier winter dishes. The leaves shouldn’t be discarded, they have a flavor reminiscent of dandelion greens and are delicious sauteed with olive oil and garlic.
The flavors of puntarelle alla romana are very typical of Roman food—bitter, piquant and in-your-face. It used to be nearly impossible to find this vegetal treat outside of Italy, but with the increasing global popularity of Roman food, some specialty grocers are starting to carry this unique chicory.
This salad is a fantastic side dish after a hearty winter braise, but it also makes a good appetizer. If you want to make a more full meal of it, a Roman friend told me that his grandmother used to make a very similar salad, but with the addition of chickpeas. If you can’t find puntarelle in your local market or at your grocer, it doesn’t hurt to ask! You never know if someone might be willing to order something special for you.
1 head puntarelle
1 large garlic clove (or 2 small)
5 anchovy fillets
2 tbs red wine vinegar
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt (sea salt or kosher salt)
1. Fill a large bowl with ice water.
2. Remove the outer leaves from the head until you reach the bulbs inside, then break the bulbs off from the stem of the plant. Cut the puntarelle using either a puntarelle cutter or by hand. If doing by hand, make sure you cut the bulbs into long, thin strips. Immediately place the pieces of puntarelle into the ice water and let sit for about 1 hour, until they begin to curl up.
Note: If you cut them by hand and they’re not thin enough, they might not curl––don’t worry, it’ll still taste great!
3. In the meantime, make the dressing. Crush the garlic along with a pinch of coarse salt with a mortar and pestle until a paste forms. Add the anchovy fillets and mash together until uniform. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can mince the ingredients together very finely, using the side of your knife to mash the garlic and the anchovy further.
4. Move the garlic and anchovy paste to a bowl, and stir in the vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until you have a thick emulsion. If the dressing isn’t holding together, you might want to give it a quick blitz with an immersion blender.
5. Drain and dry with a clean dish cloth or paper towels. Toss the puntarelle in a large bowl with the dressing, and enjoy!
Julia Terranova is a Brooklyn born, Italian-American student with a love of Rome and all things Italy. She spends her time cooking for friends and reading as many cookbooks as she can find.