I recently visited the Ferry Plaza Market looking for escarole to use in a grilled salad. Escarole is a member of the chicory family and many of these are in season now, so I had high hopes of finding it.
I roamed from stall to stall but did not find my escarole. In my wanderings, I stumbled upon a green chicory called puntarelle with a little cardboard sign saying, “Use like Romaine”. Um, the grilled escarole recipe I had in mine also works pretty well with romaine lettuce (though escarole is much better), so I picked up a head of puntarelle.
I had heard of puntarelle before but had never prepared, or eaten it. A little computer research was needed to understand this previously unknown to me chicory. Almost all the recipes and preparations I found described a fresh, crunchy salad preparation dressed with a garlic anchovy dressing. A dish that is revered in Rome. So, the idea of a grilled preparation was abandoned in favor of the classic Puntarelle alla Romana.
I mentioned to my dinner guest earlier that we were having Puntarelle followed by Paella. She was also unsure of Puntarelle and how it was prepared. After conducting her research she arrived from a weekend in Napa Valley with full knowledge of the somewhat tedious process of preparing puntarelle and a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
I felt a little like Tom Sawyer when I turned over the task of preparation even though my guest picked it up enthusiastically. At this juncture, I was content to whisk together the requisite dressing of garlic and anchovy.
Puntarelle actually refers to the “little tips” of the Catalonian chicory that are used to make this salad. To prepare puntarelle, the stalks are separated from the bulb and the bitter leaves removed. The stalk is then cut into long, 1/8” wide strips and placed in a bowl of ice water where it will curl. After an hour the puntarelle are removed from the water and tossed with the garlic / anchovy dressing to serve.
While preparation is a bit fussy, Puntarelle alla Romana is a refreshing starter. It is easy to understand why the Romans appreciate this crispy, bitter salad. When in season, I am sure this interesting chicory will often be found in my market basket. This recipe uses one head of puntarelle and makes two generous servings.
- 1 head of Puntarelle (Catalonian Chicory) prepared as described above
- 4 anchovy filets
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons red, or white wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place the anchovy filets in a small bowl with a generous pinch of salt and the minced garlic. Using the back of dinner spoon, mash these ingredients together to form a past. Add vinegar and olive oil. Whisk together all of these ingredients. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt, if needed.
- After soaking in ice water for an hour, remove the puntarelle strips and pat dry with paper towels.
- Place the puntarelle in a clean bowl and toss to coat with the garlic / anchovy dressing. Serve while cold and crisp.