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puntarella-alla-romano [1]Last year about this time Steve and I went to Rome and not surprisingly we loved every minute. A few of our “When in Rome” highlights: a close-up of the Pope [2]; the Borghese Galleries [3]; tracking down Bernini sculptures in some lesser-known churches [4]; and the Diocletian Baths [5].

slicing-puntarella [6]And of course, the food, the food, the food! Armed with recommendations from friends we felt we did well for ourselves. Sora Marghertia [7], (old school Roman-Jewish) Pizzarium Bonci [8] (modern take on pizza sliced to order, priced by weight), Pier Luigi [9] (simple fish in a fancy setting), Vecchia Roma [10] (classic), L’Archangelo [11] (d’avangardia classici) Gelateria dei Gracchi [12](ex. persimmon, chestnut, stracciatella), and our favorite, Da Felice [13] (friendly, locals-love-it deliciousness).

puntarella-1 [14]December is prime puntarelle season and we partook as often as it was offered. Puntarelle is a robust variety of chicory. It’s prepared as a crunchy cold salad with the bitter leaves stripped off, the crisp, juicy stalks sliced into elegant curls.

Which requires a specialized cutting tool. Sign me up!

You needn’t speak Italian (I sure don’t) to get the gist in this video [15]. But you can also make thin long slices with a sharp knife;  they’ll still tangle up nicely in the ice-water bath.

Cutting into strips is more than a style choice. According to Italian Family Dinin [16]g (Edward Giobbi and Eugenia Bone),  the stalks can be too bitter if chopped cross-ways. “But sliced lengthwise, their bitterness is transformed into a taste delicately sharp and peppery. Italians believe puntarelle, like chicory and chard, cleans the stomach, and is good for the blood. It is high in iron and vitamins A and C.”

Actually the only hard thing about making a puntarelle salad is finding it. I tracked mine down at Eataly. Check out Italian neighborhoods. Grab it when you see it, the season is short.

Puntarelle alla Romana 
Italian Chicory Salad with Anchovy Dressing

1 bunch fresh puntarelle
1/2 can anchovies
2 cloves of garlic
juice of 3 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Optional: 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano cheese (somewhat heretical but very good)

  1. Cut off the bottom of the puntarelle and separate all the stalks and shoots.
  2. Tear off the dark green leaves along the sides and at the tops of the stalks.
  3. Using a slicer (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or a sharp knife, cut the stalks into long, thin strips.
  4. Place the strips in an ice-water bath for one hour or until they curl up.
  5. Put the garlic, anchovies, lemon juice and olive oil into a blender; emulisfy.  Add the pepper and cheese (if you’re using it) and whir again to mix.
  6. Drain the puntarelle. Dry in a salad spinner.
  7. Toss the puntarelle with the dressing, serve very cold.

NOTE: Depending on the size of the puntarelle, you might need to make a double batch of dressing. The puntarelle curls, undressed, keep well in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.