Giuliano walked into the house reverently holding a green that looked like an overgrown stemy arugula. He was holding a bunch of puntarelle (pronounced poon-ta-REL-lay) or cicoria di catalogna that his parents had bequeathed us. Puntarelle means “little tips”; but that is a bit of a misnomer as one eats only the sweet, hollow inner stalks. Puntarelle is also the name of the traditional preparation, a salad that is famous from Rome. Giuliano was very excited, as he hadn’t seen it outside of Italy; he was amazed that his father had found it online, growing in California.
Puntarelle is a wonderful Italian green that belongs to the chicory family. It tastes something like a sharp endive with a hint of fennel. To the unknowing eye, mine, it looked strange, almost like a big weed. I saw later that the leaves looked like the dandelion leaves that are ubiquitous in my garden, so maybe that is why I wondered why it was special. However, after tasting the wonderful flavor and experiencing the refreshing crispness, I don’t know how I will wait until next season. When prepared in the traditional manner, the greens become a savory sensation that I know I’m going to crave.
Puntarelle is a traditional winter green, picked when young and tender, the Puntarelle greens are often eaten raw. The preparation takes a bit of time and forethought as one needs to first trim all of the leaves, slice the shoots into thin spears, and then soak them in ice cold water. This causes them to curl and become juicy and tender. It also makes for a beautiful presentation as the shoots are various shades of green and it isn’t often one gets pretty curlicues on a plate.
The Roman Puntarelle salad has a traditional dressing that is one of the only premade dressings served on a salad that I have ever heard of in Italy. It is made with anchovies, a bit of garlic, red wine vinegar, good extra virgin olive oil, and salt. These ingredients are mashed together then tossed with the greens. Allow the salad dressing to settle for a few minutes and then serve. It is a rich tasting, beautiful salad that will have you and your family and friends transported back to the eternal city of Rome. A dish fit for Caesar himself.
I adapted the recipe from Giuliano’s new book, Hazan Family Favorites. In his book he uses the more readily available Belgian endive or young chicory; however, if you can find Puntarelle, it is something special and not to be missed.
Puntarelle Roman Salad
Adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s Hazan Family Favorites
4 medium cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 anchovy fillets
1 pound Puntarelle shoots (in Italy you can purchase them already cleaned)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
- Pull off all the outer leaves. One can keep them and prepare them cooked as suggested by Marcella Hazan in Marcella Cucina. Detach the hollow stalk and cut each lengthwise and in half. Keep cutting lengthwise until you have strips ¼ inch wide. Put a few ice cubes in a large bowl and fill with cold water, add the Puntarelle strip and soak for at least one hour until they curl into ring-like shapes. Do not put into the refrigerator.
- After the puntarelle has soaked for ½ an hour, peel the garlic cloves and lightly crush them. Add them to a small bowl with the vinegar. Finely chop the anchovies and add them to the bowl. Mix well and let stand for ½ hour.
- When the salad is ready to be served (but no longer than 1 hour after you’ve created the dressing) discard the garlic cloves. Pour the dressing over the salad, season lightly with salt; add the olive oil, several grindings of pepper, and serve.