I have enjoyed the classic Puntarelle alla Romana a single time and that was when I brought home an interesting chicory with the same name – puntarelle – from the Ferry Market in San Francisco. It was a substitute for the escarole I was seeking.
After a little Internet research, a friend and I proceeded to cut and slice lengthwise the tips of our Catalonian Chicory, place these tips in cold ice water to curl and serve with a strong anchovy, garlic vinaigrette. Upon tasting, I immediately understood why Romans enjoy this crisp salad that is both bitter and peppery and balanced by the salty, acidic vinaigrette.
I only saw the puntarelle one time while in San Francisco (though admittedly I was not looking for it before my accidental experience). Sadly, I have never seen it in Florida. Missing true puntarelle, I started thinking of substitutes in the chicory family that would deliver on the bitter, peppery taste of the original.
Dandelion (backyard arugula) is often suggested and I do plan on trying dandelion with a simple garlic anchovy dressing. But, most times I pair dandelion greens with tomatoes or hard cooked eggs and bacon dressing.
Other suggestions are to use Belgian endive. It has a subtle bitter, peppery flavor like puntarelle, though to my taste it is subtler than I would like and since it is a “leaf” rather than a tip, it lacks the crunch of puntarelle. Some recipes suggest adding thinly sliced celery to the endive in order to regain the crunch.
I have settled on a salad of Belgian endive when yearning for bitter, peppery flavors of puntarelle. While the Belgian endive salad falls short of a true Puntarelle alla Romana, it is an excellent starter, is easy to make and delivers on a bright, bitter and subtle peppery taste. The salad stands up well to a strongly flavored garlic anchovy dressing. Don’t hold back on these flavors. Serves 4.
- 4 heads of Belgian endive
- 4 to 6 anchovy filets
- 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Italian Flat Leaf parsley to garnish
- Trim the endives and thinly slice lengthwise. Place sliced endive in a bowl with ice water and set aside.
- Place the anchovy filets in a small bowl with a generous pinch of salt and the mince garlic. Using the back of dinner spoon, mash these ingredients together to form a past. Add vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk together all of these ingredients. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt, if needed. Taste and add more vinegar, or olive oil to balance the flavor as you like it. I like the dressing on the acidic side.
- Remove the endive from the ice water and pat dry on a dishtowel. Place the endive in a clean bowl and toss to coat with the garlic / anchovy dressing. Serve while cold and crisp. Garnish with parsley.