It’s hard to believe that it’s almost 3 years since we threw open the shutters to welcome customers to our fruit and vegetable business in Bermondsey. We hit the ground running, giving little thought to what to call the business. Back then we simply used the names of the two main people involved, but it’s time to choose a name that relates to how we feel about what we do.
Over the past 3 years we have been embraced by our customers – both locals and those of you who travel to this little corner of south-east London to buy from us. You are at the heart of our business. In this, the season of Puntarelle, we take the opportunity to thank all our loyal customers for your continued support and hope you approve of the name we have finally chosen - Puntarelle & Co.
So, what is Puntarelle?
Puntarelle is a member of the chicory family (Cicoria Catalogna) and is also sometimes referred to as Asparagus Chicory. It’s a cold weather crop grown in Italy, particulary close to Rome, and normally at its best November to February. This was the time when we were working hard preparing to open our business. We have welcomed the Puntarelle into our arch each year since, so it’s a crop which has particular meaning to us - all the more so because our customers love it.
Pick up a Puntarelle and you’ll realise from the weight that this is far from just a bunch of ‘greens’. The vibrant, tightly 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. The long, jagged, dandelion-like leaves embrace a heart of hollow, pale green, knobbly shoots looking a little like short, fat asparagus spears.
What to do with Puntarelle?
You can eat the outer leaves raw in a salad or accentuate their bitter quality by cooking them as an accompaniment. Place the leaves in a pan with a knob of butter, a couple of tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt, and cook for 3-4 minutes until they are softened and the water has evaporated. They are particularly good served alongside a beef casserole and mashed potatoes. The knobbly, juicy heart and the inner leaves make a delicious salad. The classic Italian way is to toss the sliced shoots in an anchovy vinaigrette but here’s a slightly different way:
Photo©Evie Saffron Strands
Puntarelle and Anchovy Salad
50g tinned or fresh anchovies (you could use 100g of fried bacon instead for that salty kick)
3-4 slices of sourdough bread, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for frying
a garlic clove, peeled and flattened
1 tblsp of lemon juice
1 tbsp of capers (drained of any brine)
A little salt and pepper
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Strip away the outer leaves of the Puntarelle and save for later use (see above). Pull away the juicy little shoots from the heart, slice each of them lengthwise into 3-4 pieces (or push through a Puntarelle cutter if you have one) and place in a bowl of iced water in the fridge for an hour or so.
Mix the last four ingredients to make the dressing in a large salad bowl.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the garlic clove until it just begins to colour lightly, then remove it. Fry the cubes of bread until crisp and lightly browned then drain off the excess oil. Drain and dry the Puntarelle well and add to the salad bowl, mixing well with the dressing. Add the anchovies (or crisp cooked bacon if using) and the fried bread and serve.