Puntarelle alla Romana, the winter salad, harkens from the Rome, and, like so many other wonders of the Italian cuisine, is intricate and complex in its simplicity. In the family of bitters, puntarelle contributes to digestive health and cleanses the palate after a meal.
Puntarella, a member of the chicory family, could easily come from outer space. Well, perhaps that is not completely true, but puntarelle, sometimes called Cicoria di catalogna, has some unusual features and rarely if ever shows up in the produce section in the U.S. However, you might recognize some of its more common relatives: endive, radicchio, or escarole. The puntarelle comes in a large head of white and green spikey stalks much like a bok choy while the core consists of thicker, crunchy shoots used for the salad.
Easy and super nutritious
To make the salad, remove the outer leaves. These can be steamed and added to a soup or as a side dish. The stars of this dish are thick inner shoots that are sliced into 1/4 inch pieces then soaked in ice water.
Then voila! They form into curlicues. Simply remove from the ice water, drain off excess water, and dress with red wine vinegar, EVOO, salt, and pepper. Even though the authentic recipe calls for anchovy vinaigrette, this vegetarian version tastes great.
In North America, we love bitters in our cocktails but find preparing members of the chicory family a bit out of our taste comfort zone. Not so in the Italian cuisine in its infinite culinary wisdom. The Italians understand the health benefits of these magical bitter plants which can be found in many permutations up and down the peninsula. Some of the most coveted varieties of chicory are Treviso from Verona and Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, both have earned the IGP designation. Chicory root has even been used as a coffee substitute.
Perfect winter vegetable
This week at my CSA, Tierra Vegetables, the puntarelle showed up in the subscription box. I love discovering new Italian produce and couldn’t wait to take this precious gift to my kitchen and learn its secrets and flavors. I hope you are able to find puntarelle in your market and make Puntarelle all Romana! The recipe and video below should help.
Puntarelle alla Romana
- 1 head of puntarelle
- large bowl of ice water
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic – peeled and smashed
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the puntarelle head and remove outer leaves. These leaves can be steamed and eaten as a side dish or added to a soup broth. We use the thick inner stalks for this salad.
- Break apart the thick inner stalks and cut each one into 1/4 inch strips. Have a big bowl of ice water ready, and place the strips in the ice water as you go. Watch the video below! It helps understand how to approach these steps.
- Let the puntarelle strips soak in ice water for 1 hour. You will see them curl! Feel free to dip in and taste one every now and then. Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette. Soak the garlic cloves in the red wine vinegar for 30 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves and mix in the extra virgin olive oil.
To prepare the salad
- Drain the puntarelle, and using a salad spinner or cotton towel, remove as much water as possible. Place the puntarelle in a serving bowl and dress with vinegrette and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Buon appetito!Most puntarelle heads are large and make a large quantity of salad. I usually store the prepared strips in a plastic bag, so I can dress them one serving at a time. They will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.
Want more ideas? Some of my other favorites are:
Roasted Radichio with Polenta and Mint
Stuffed Radicchio Antipasto
Meatless Calzone from Southern Italy (with escarole and radicchio)