Puntarelle is something I've wanted to cook after I learned about it working with a chef from Lazio where it's traditionally eaten. It's one of the most fascinating vegetables I've eaten.
Deliciously bitter, the vegetable is a member of the chicory family, related to endive, escarole and raddichio. Over time it was developed from wild chicory (Chicorium intybus), selectively bred for it's crisp, tender heart. It tastes like a dandelion with the texture of celery root.
Traditionally it's cut into thin julienne strips, soaked in ice water and tossed with an anchovy vinaigrette. The simple side dish is one of the most popular foods in Rome and can be purchased pre-made in Italian grocery stores.
There's a number of cultivars that can go under different names such as cicoria Catalogna or puntarelle romane. All are types are interchangeable with one difference: some puntarelle will curl when soaked, others will not.
Puntarelle de Geata
A shorter, stout variety from Lazio. It stays straight after soaking.
Puntarelle de Galatina
This chicory from Puglia is longer, and will curl when soaked in cold water.
Where to find
I ordered mine from a farm that grows heirloom Italian vegetables. You might be able to buy it at an Italian market or a farmers market. I think the best option is to grow puntarelle from seeds in your garden.
In Europe the season will be February through May. In the US, they can be ordered during the Winter months, starting around October.
How to make it
To make the traditional chicory salad, you remove the outer leaves to reveal the heart. Remove the buds and cut into a thin julienne, then soak in ice water.
Cleaning and cutting
Traditionally a wire puntarelle cutter is used to cut the vegetable into strips. I prefer to shave them on a mandoline slicer.
Make sure to save leftover leaves for making cicoria ripassate (sauteed chicory) or adding to soups or minestrone.
The dressing for the slaw is a rustic vinaigrette made from anchovy fillets, garlic, red wine vinegar, crushed red chile, and olive oil.
I beat the anchovies with a fork, but you can also use a food processor or blender to make a pureed vinaigrette.
Toss the sliced chicory with the dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Anchovies are salty, but often need a little extra salt. I add fresh lemon too.
Variations and Tips
- If you can't find Italian chicory, you can substitute endive or escarole. Make sure to use the most crisp bottom portion.
- If you don't soak the chicory it will discolor.
- Fresh mint is a good addition if you have some.
Other ways to cook
You can sauté the buds like a vegetable, add them to soup, or cook the greens. Make sure to blanch whole buds in salted water so they don't discolor.
Puntarelle alla Romana (Roman Chicory Salad)
- Puntarelle cutter or mandoline slicer (optional)
- Towel or small salad spinner
- 500 grams puntarelle chicory outer leaves removed and saved for another purpose, like soup.
- Kosher salt or sea salt to taste
- 30 grams extra virgin olive oil
- 30 grams red wine vinegar
- Wedges of fresh lemon for serving
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 50 grams anchovy fillets (One 2oz tin) patted dry on a paper towel
- 5 grams garlic (1 medium clove) grated or minced
- Add the garlic to a small mixing bowl with the vinegar, mix and set aside while you cut the anchovies and make the vinaigrette.
- Drain the anchovies and pat dry on a paper towel. Cut the anchovies into thin slices. Mash the anchovies and vinegar very well with a fork or a small whisk.
- Drizzle in the oil, beating with a fork until all the oil is added.
- If using a mandoline slicer, shave the heart into ¼ inch thick slices. Stack the slices on top of each other, then cut into julienne.
- If using a puntarelle cutter, break the heart into buds. Press each bud through a puntarelle cutter.
- Soak the sliced chicory in iced water for 30 minutes.
- Drain the puntarelle, wrap in a clean towel and allow it to rest and drain. You can also spin it dry in a small salad spinner.
- Toss the puntarelle with the anchovy dressing, add salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve the salad cool or at room temperature.