When I come to Rome in the winter I seek out puntarelle like a mad woman. Bags of pre-sliced and pre-soaked curls are available at the market for 6 Euros a bag. (This is a deal trust me.) When I found out how much work went in to preparing the puntarelle for a salad, I gladly paid the 6 Euros. This unique member of the chicory family makes one of my favorite salads/side dishes ever.
Puntarelle are found in Rome in the winter season from December to March. I have not seen them readily available anywhere else in Italy. (From my limited experience, I mean Piemonte, Toscana and parts of Lombardia.)
To prepare the puntarelle you must VERY thinly slice the spears lengthwise, and set into a large quantity of cold water for up to four hours. This causes the thin strips to curl up. The crispy curls are served raw, dressed with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and minced anchovies. I use lemon instead of vinegar and in some establishments, the acid is not used at all. This site has a photo of the plant itself. If you ever come to Rome in wintertime, do yourself a favor and order a serving of this slightly bitter yet wonderfully crunchy and tender salad.
Update: Deme kept telling me that puntarelle is very uncommon outside Rome but today on a short walk in the neighborhood, I found some. I set out to prepare some for dinner pronto!
Here is the whole puntarelle, it looks like a bunch of celery with dark green leaves.
Deme showed me how to slice the spears, which I then placed in cold, cold water. After I finished the work, I placed the whole bowl in the refrigerator to soak even more. It may take up to 4 hours to "curl up".
And of course here is the finished product. Yummy!
Serves 2-4 people
1 head of puntarelle, sliced thinly, soaked in cold water until very curly
2 cloves of garlic
5-8 anchovy fillets
juice of half a lemon
fresh ground pepper
good olive oil
1. Add all the ingredients together in a blender and blend until smooth or
add all the ingredients and blend with a hand stick blender. To make it the traditional way, mash garlic and anchovy in a mortar and pestle, the stir in oil and lemon juice.
2. Dress the salad and let it sit for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine. Enjoy!
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