The end of the puntarelle (literally “little tips”) season approaches, and a sad day that is. From November through February Romans enjoy these crunchy, watery greens, a variety of Catalonian chicory. As they are found nowhere else in Italy there is also a component of Roman pride and identity in this dish, and so it is prepared in homes and local restaurants alike.
They are called puntarelle because one eats the tender shoots, or tips, of this plant. Preparation is a pain however. The plant (photo 1) must be cleaned of its leaves in order to reach and remove the shoots. One by one these are then split long ways from the base almost all the way to the tip into four or six parts. At this point, you soak them in cold water for about 1/2 an hour, and the previously straight stems curl up (photo 2). Making a salad for a larger group therefore can be a long affair, which is why both the plants as well as pre-cut and soaked puntarelle (10 times the ‘non-prepped’ price) are available at the markets.
At this point the puntarelle are dressed with the only dressing in Italy that is made first and then mixed in. (All other salads are dressed by simply adding the ingredients directly to the salad one at a time and then mixing.) Raw garlic, anchovy, and vinegar mashed together make up this sharp dressing, which is added to the puntarelle, ideally tossed directly with one’s hands, allowed to sit for about 30 minutes, and then served adding some olive oil and if necessary a pinch of salt.
But not for much longer, as all good things must come to an end . . . although in puntarelle‘s case thankfully only until next November!