Puntarelle are the inner hearts of cicoria catalogna, a kind of chicory and one of the greatest treats in Rome. The shoots have the crisp, satisfying crunch similar to celery with a flavor which is a cross of chicory and endive. The hearts are trimmed out of the large heads and cut into thin shreds that curl up when immersed in ice water. In Italy Puntarelle is available most of the year except early spring when the stalks are not yet developed. The stalks of the puntarelle make a crisp refreshing salad. This variety of chicory has a slightly bitter undertone but when served with this potent dressing seem quite sweet. The seeds may be purchased on line.
There are several varieties all good for salads:
Catalogna Puntarelle (Puntarelle a Foglia Stretta)
Catalogna Chicory A Foglie Frastagliate
Catalogna Chicory Brindinsina
Catalogna Chicory Veneto
1 untrimmed head Catalogna Puntarelle
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (or 1 anchovy, minced)
1 teaspoon mustard, preferably Dijon
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim off any outer green leaves. Slice the hollow stalks lengthwise into narrow strips (about 1/4"); cut the strips into pieces 2 to 3 inches long. Soak the pieces in ice water for an hour. Most will curl up. Whisk remaining ingredients together to make the dressing.
To serve, drain puntarelle pieces and pat dry. Toss with dressing.
Trattoria Otello (06 878-1178) alla Concordia on Via Della Croce 81, Rome serves this salad. This is my favorite trattoria. The owner Pia is a treasure. Be sure to ask for the Italian menu. Better to struggle through explanations than miss a rare opportunity for real Roman food.
- Chicory as a salad is inherently bitter. but the use of salty anchovies in the dressing masks the bitterness almost completely. In scientific studies, the sodium ion in salt (NaCl) has a nearly linear ability to reduce the taste of bitterness in many cases. This is also the case with monosodium glutamate as well which has less of a salty taste.