Have you ever seen such a beautiful thing?
I was so excited when I went to Montreal a few weeks ago and found my first head of puntarelle. I had been searching for this mysterious vegetable for years, in vain. Chez Nino, in the middle of Little Italy, at Marché Jean-Talon, had several dozens of puntarelle in stock and they told me they would have some for several weeks more.
Puntarelle is a type of chicory, a cousin of endives, escarole and radicchio, and it is available at this time of the year. With its slightly bitter taste, its crispiness and its freshness, it is one of the most exciting vegetables I have had the chance to work with. When you bite into it, it reminds you a bit of celery, fennel and chicory all in one. Beautiful!
The preparation, classical, is a bit of work, but it is part of the experience. Take a seat at the table, and start trimming it like an Italian nonna, then let it soak in ice water for at least an hour before using. You can keep the rest in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and it will last for days without discolouring or rusting. The large outside leaves can be blanched in salted water for a few minutes, then sautéed in olive oil with a bit of garlic. For the salad, you use only the interior small buds, as seen below. You can either slice these thinly, or prepare them like a little flower like in the video, whatever you prefer.
I made it the very classical way, with a garlicky anchovy dressing, flavoured with mustard and capers, which is reminiscent of a Caesar dressing and it was absolutely delightful. If the thought of anchovies scares you, simply serve it with a lemon and olive oil dressing, it is also very good.
If you can get your hands on a head of puntarelle and you are in the Ottawa area anytime soon, please contact me, I would love to get some more of these little beauties.
Ingredients: 1 head puntarelle or other chicory 1 smallish garlic clove, grated Method:
Insalata di puntarelle
1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
2-3 vine tomatoes
2 ribs celery, cut in little batons
3 anchovy fillets in oil
1 teaspoon capers in brine, drained
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 head puntarelle or other chicory
1 smallish garlic clove, grated