Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Puntarelle, our namesake, is a member of the chicory family (Cichorium). This Cichorium Catalogna is also sometimes referred to as Asparagus Chicory. It’s a cold weather crop, usually at its best between November and February and, as it is coming into its prime season, it’s a good time to focus on it.
Grown in Italy, it’s a crop particularly valued by Romans who have a taste for the bitterness of all Cicorie.
Pick up a Puntarelle and you’ll be surprised by its weightiness. The long, jagged, dandelion-like leaves embrace a heart of hollow, pale green, knobbly shoots looking a little like short, fat, pale asparagus spears. The vibrant outer overlapping leaves are sweet with a welcome touch of bitterness that comes through particularly when the leaves are cooked. They deliver a welcome astringent punch in the depths of winter to add variety to our diet of home grown greens.
Salads of bitter greens are often dressed with something salty as salt not only balances the bitterness but actually suppresses our perception of bitterness. The knobbly, juicy heart and the inner leaves make a delicious salad. The classic Italian way is to toss the raw thinly sliced shoots in an anchovy vinaigrette. The tougher outer leaves can be braised in a pan with a splash of water, a pinch of salt and a knob of butter until just wilted. Delicious mixed with some fried bacon or pancetta and piled on toasted bread.