Kitchen Confidence

How to Prep Puntarelle

By • February 5, 2014 • 12 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Chef Nick Anderer of New York City's Maialino shows us how to tackle winter's most alien-looking vegetable. 

Puntarelle from Food52

The first step in attacking a seemingly mysterious ingredient is knowing what the hell it is and how to find it. The word puntarelle does not actually refer to a type of vegetable; it specifically refers to a part of a vegetable, namely the inner stalks of Catalonian chicory, a plant whose outer elongated leaves are extremely bitter and almost inedible in their purest raw form. Although uncommon in the U.S., many domestic farmers are beginning to grow this chicory for chefs -- and I can only imagine its niche popularity stems from the allure of its classic Roman preparation, Puntarelle in Salsa di Alici, a salad made from curly, crunchy strips of these chicory hearts dressed with anchovy and vinegar.

Here’s how the puntarelle are prepared.

1. Prepare a large ice bath. Strip the dark outer leaves to reveal the pale green, celery-like core. (Save those outer leaves for a braise or stir fry -- they go nicely with a robust tomato sauce, spiked with olives and capers.) 

Puntarelle from Food52

2. Break the core into its individual hollow stalks, either by hand or with a paring knife.  As you approach the core, a paring knife will be necessary as the clusters become more compact.

Puntarelle from Food52 Puntarelle from Food52

3. Slice each stalk lengthwise in half and begin cutting each of these halves into lengthwise strips. Note that there is no easy or fast way to accomplish this. You can lay flat on a cutting board and attempt to julienne them with a large chef’s knife, or you can hold in your hand with a paring knife and peel off strips one at a time. (In the markets of Campo de Fiori in Rome, you will often see vendors using a flat wire-cutter, similar to a pasta chitara, through which they pass the stalks to make these lengthwise strips. Although it may be a worthwhile venture to seek out a source for this mysterious contraption, any household Roman cook will tell you that the painstaking process of hand-slicing is an integral part of the puntarelle experience and in fact gives you greater appreciation for the final product. I tend to agree.) 

Puntarelle from Food52 Puntarelle from Food52

4. Transfer your beautiful strips of puntarelle into the ice bath, making sure they have plenty of room to coexist, submerged in the icy water. It will take roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour for them to fully curl and become the perfect crunchy vehicle for the anchovy dressing.

Puntarelle from Food52

Now, to make the famous Roman salad:

• In a large mixing bowl, add a drizzle (2 to 3 tablespoons) of very good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil. To this small puddle of oil add about a tablespoon of chopped anchovies. (We use Scalia anchovies, pre-salted anchovy filets packed in sunflower oil.) 

• Stir this mixture around to coat the bottom of the bowl and add 2 small handfuls of drained, curly puntarelle. Toss thoroughly by hand so that every piece is coated evenly with oil and chopped anchovy bits. Add a little pinch of salt to taste -- believe it or not, the vegetable needs some salt in addition to the anchovies.

• Right before serving, toss with a light drizzle (1 tablespoon) of red wine vinegar and serve immediately. 

Puntarelle salad from Food52

What are your favorite ways to eat puntarelle? Let us know in the comments!

Jump to Comments (12)

Tags: how-to & diy, vegetables, prep, puntarelle

Comments (12)

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10 months ago Frances Peets

Thanks equilibrist I was thinking along those lines too! Thanks for the reassurance. Appreciate it!

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10 months ago equilibrist

I also wondered if it might be good with some ricotta salata and maybe garlic in the mix. I've never had puntarelle with cheese, but if you're not using anchovies you might give that a try.

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10 months ago equilibrist

For a vegetarian version, would some combination of olives and capers work? That makes me think puttanesca, but then you'd be back to the anchovies again!

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10 months ago Frances Peets

This looks so scrumptious to me a very bitter eating salad person but I would truly love to know what to pair it with for a salty vegetarian version. Any suggestions? Thanks.

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10 months ago equilibrist

Thanks Nickanderer, I will try that--if I can find longer stalks in this country!

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10 months ago Nickanderer

Equilibrist - the final appearance and length of the strands depend entirely on Mother Nature. With long stalks of Puntarelle you end up with the spaghetti-like curls and with the shorter stalks (as pictured in this piece) you end up with less curly, shorter strips. I can assure you, however, that the method described is the true Italian way (or at the very least, the Roman way) as I learned these techniques cooking in Rome. I will agree with you that the leaves do not belong in the dish, but aside from that small detail in food styling, Food52 has documented the classic Roman dish very accurately. Give it a shot with longer stalks and I think you'll be pleased with the results.

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10 months ago equilibrist

I'm sure this tastes delicious, but the final version in the picture looks nothing like any puntarelle I've ever had in Italy (nor, for that matter, do any preparations I've had at restaurants in the US--Lupa and Maialino come to mind). Perhaps it's the use of the "chitarra" cutter in Italy's markets, but the final strands there are cut much longer and narrower. When they curl, they look more like spaghetti. And I've never seen any leaves attached at all in the presentation. I find that that style of puntarelle tastes better to me, too, or maybe it's just that everything tastes better when one is in Italy. At any rate, I'd love to be able to prep puntarelle the true Italian way.

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11 months ago cookinginvictoria

Wow -- this look delicious. I love puntarelle, especially with an anchovy vinaigrette! Sadly, it is not available where I live now, even at our local greenmarkets, although I have been fortunate enough to discover some other delicious chicories. I tried to grow puntarelle in my garden a few years ago, but I wasn't successful. I just might try to grow it again this year! For the Food52 New Yorkers: Not sure if it's still available there, but the Union Square Greenmarket used to sell puntarelle at certain times of the year.

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11 months ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

STUNNING pic up top!! wow!

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11 months ago elise maiberger

I will be on the lookout for puntarelle, which is most likely easy here in NYC. I would, however, like the recipe for the outer leaves and tomato sauce mentioned. It sounds like the correct prep is crucial to a good puntarelle experience.
Also, can I use those fancy white anchovies you see in markets like Whole Foods?

Me

11 months ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

I'm so happy to be able to make this at home! I've it at Maialino and it's so, so good. New Yorkers: We've had success tracking puntarelle at Eatlaly.

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11 months ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

If you can find puntarelle beata Lei! Even in Rome they are only available during the colder months. The anchovy dressing is exactly how I like to see them plated. Caveat emptor; I have seen Italian restaurants here in the US try to tart up dandelion greens and still sell them as puntarelle.