Monday, January 30, 2012

It's a Twofor! {Puntarelle + Potato Salad}


Resources. Tangible or not, we need them both, and they need us. Teaching English abroad, my students are some of the best resources I've got. Spanning fields such as law, finance, IT, medicine...I've always had my go-to person for basic needs pretty much covered. Funny enough, I've never taught any chefs, restaurateurs, or other food industry folks. But I find almost everyone delights in explaining local dishes, or pointing out the best/worst foodie spots in town, to the newbie.

Puntarelle - native specifically to the Lazio (Roman) region. It is in the chicory family, but different than chicory in the proper sense. From November to February, I am told this veg is found in markets, restaurants, and on mum's table. Although, it looks like I may be needing tips from one of these Italian mums, as my puntarelle didn't curl.

See, puntarelle is an abundant, but bitter, green that some clever peasants back in the day started soaking in cold water to make it more palatable. The fun bit is that then it curls up into little green curly-cues. I thought it would be just like wrapping presents, when the ribbon gets all tightly curled with the scissors (the ONLY reason I wrap.) Not this time. Not this puntarelle. Lack of curls shouldn't get a girl down though. It still tasted great, not at all bitter, especially balanced with the traditional anchovy-garlic dressing.

Now, the confession must come. I did not properly rinse my salted anchovies. At first taste, the salt was really quite overpowering. A potato salad thus enters the scene..the plot (and the salad) thickens. A big bowl of a light and lemony fennel-potato salad was in the fridge from the previous day. It also happened to be low on salt. Perfetto. The combination was so complementary I couldn't believe my luck. I had hoped to bring the puntarelle to a colleagues cook-out and really didn't want to disappoint. While it was still definitely on the salty side, the potato salad muted it just enough. The lemon, tarragon, fennel flavours really made one stellar match for the anchovy-garlic puntarelle.

So, thanks to those resourceful Romans, who left a very practical culinary legacy of bitter-green-soaking, today's post is a twofor - two salads for one. Mix and match as you please, delightful eaten on their own, but becoming a substantial power player when paired together.

Recipe: Puntarelle + Potato Salad
Serves 6-8 as a side
Eat with Sauvignon Blanc

Potato Salad:
4-5 potatoes
1 med (or half large) bulb fennel
1 shallot
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1 1/2 heaping Tb plain yogurt
1 heaping Tb mayonnaise
1 handful flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp dried tarragon
good olive oil

1) Cube the potatoes and boil until soft (15-20 mins)

2) Finely slice the fennel bulb, reserving the fronds for garnish. Mince the shallots. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, yogurt, and mayonnaise. Add the fennel, shallots, parsley, and tarragon. Mix well.

3. When potatoes have cooled just a bit, add into the salad. Salt/pepper to taste and toss in those fennel fronds.

Puntarelle alla Romana:
2 small (1 large) heads puntarelle (chicory)
2-3 cloves garlic
5 fillets anchovies in salt
2 Tb balsamic vinegar
5 Tb extra virgin olive oil

1) Cut and soak the puntarelle: follow the pictures here at Giallo Zafferanoa (text is Italian). Great blog posts at Rachel Eats and Apron and Sneakers. Basically, you want to use the hollow stalks, not the greens, and not the really flimsy outer stalks. Pick away the outer leaves, and slice the leefy tops off the tubular stalks. Then slice the long way into 6-8 long matchsticks. Stick in a big bowl of ice water for a good hour. They should curl if sliced thin enough, and not cut too short. If not, don't worry, the bitterness will still be gone, they just don't look as fun.

2) Make the dressing: mash the garlic in a mortar/pestle, or smash/finely mince. Rinse the anchovies very well of salt, and pat dry. Snip of the tail bits, and toss in a bowl with the garlic and vinegar. Use the back of a fork to mash, or two knives like you are cutting butter into pastry. Add olive oil and let sit 10 minutes before using.

3) Strain (or stick in a salad spinner) and pat dry with a kitchen towel. In a big bowl, toss well with the dressing and let sit 30 minutes before eating.

- Jo


  1. I've never heard of puntarella before, but I love chicory, so I'm guessing I'd like this too. It sounds wonderful covered in your dressing!

  2. Yes, I hadn't heard of puntarelle either until moving to Rome...the anchovy bit is a traditional dressing for it, but I imagine it could work with chicory too.


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