Puntarelle (pronounced poon-ta-REL-lay) is a winter bitter green. It is a member of the chicory family and it is also called catalogna or catalogna spigata. The slender leaves must be boiled/steamed and can be eaten warm as a side dish, with a trickle of olive oil or ri-passate in padella – that is to say, sautéed in oil, garlic and peperoncino. It is the inner crunchy shoots though that is the real reason Italians buy puntarelle – they make one of the best winter salads. The shoots are sliced very thinly and dressed with a punchy condiment of extra-virgin olive oil, a suspicion of wine or sherry vinegar, plus garlic and chopped anchovy fillets. An earthy, gutsy salad that goes well after a fatty roast (warm porchetta springs to mind), or a split-roasted chicken but that is also good by itself, as an antipasto. “Puntarelle” is used both for the actual vegetable and for the salad made with it. When you see “puntarelle” on an Italian menu, it always means this salad, never the boiled and dressed leaves.
Puntarelle is a beloved speciality of Roman cuisine and if you visit any good street market of the Italian capital, you are likely to see vendors busy slicing up puntarelle with a special tool: being able to buy them ready sliced, makes them even more tempting. Otherwise, you have to sit down at the kitchen table and spend some time to slice them thinly, which I have never found to be such a tedious job; admittingly, as you can see from my pictures, my puntarelle might not pass muster with a real romano – not thin enough!
Puntarelle are very popular in Italy and rather tricky to track down here in the UK, although I have lately seen them cropping up in few farmers’ market. It is a splendid winter vegetable worth keeping an eye open for.
Puntarelle alla Romana/Roman style puntarelle salad
Just guidelines, rather than a proper recipe.
Wash and prepare the puntarelle shoots as shown in this video. Place them in icy water for half an hour/one hour, drain and shake them dry.
The condiment: chopped anchovies fillets are mixed with mashed garlic, a generous glug of olive oil and just a drop of vinegar. This is not a condiment for the faint hearted. Pour over the puntarelle, mixing well. That’s it. Enjoy.
Trick: If you fail to find puntarelle, you can use the same splendid condiment using finely shredded endive instead – still very good