Puntarelle are glorious to eat. This type of chicory is a versatile vegetable which you can eat raw or cooked. It’s also a doddle to grow. We grew it for the first time last year and it will be a firm favourite for the future.
You may see recipes for Puntarella, with an ‘a‘ at the end. However, to be precise, Puntarella is the Roman Italian word for little shoot. So puntarella is one shoot, and puntarelle – with an ‘e‘ at the end is the plural and means many shoots. We’re nearly always eating many, so the recipes use puntarelle. You may see the plant or seeds described as Cicoria (di) Cataglogna, Cicoria di Gaeta or Cicoria Asparago (asparagus chicory). As far as I can find out, the Cicoria di Veneto is a leaf only chicory like an endive and without the shoots. And some of the Cicoria Cataglogna seeds on sale are leaf only chicories. So be careful. In my next post, I’ll give you one UK source for the seeds for the right stuff.
According to Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, seeds of asparagus chicory used to be sold (in 1976) for UK growers by Thompson & Morgan. I’m told by Charlie Hicks (the über-costermonger) that puntarelle were grown in England 100s of years ago and used to be exported to Italy. Now he has to import them for the top chefs to use. It’s appears that we’ve lost the taste for them in this neck of the woods. Perhaps I can start a revival here. If you’d like to find out more about how to grow and cook them, please read on…
This picture is of puntarelle that is about 4-6 weeks old. It shows what you get with the plant. Some narrow, frilled and ribbed leaves like an endive surrounding a centre where the juicy edible shoots appear.
Both the leaves and the shoots are edible.
The shoots are very unusual. They are hollow and ribbed on the insides. When raw they are crunchy and slightly bitter. You can reduce the crunch and the bitterness by steaming, boiling or sauteing them.
In Rome, they are traditionally eaten cut into fine strips lengthways. Then they are iced (for about an hour is best) so that they tenderise & curl. To serve they are dressed with a big flavoured anchovy and lemon juice (or red wine vinegar) dressing. Serve with fettunta – a good bread, toasted and drizzled with excellent extra virgin olive oil.
Here’s my attempt, served with some juicy home-grown tomatoes:
Below there is a video from Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome of them being prepared in the local market. Notice the patented puntarelle cutter called a Taglia.
Elizabeth’s recipe for the dressing and more information is here.
The leaves are more of a bitter chicory taste than the shoots, the larger and older leaves more so. I treat them like chard and strip the green leaf from the rib. I sauté the rib and then steam or sauté the shredded leaves. These are great dressed in a punchy vinaigrette or added to soups, casseroles, stews or pasta fillings.
There’s an alternative recipe and another video showing how to prepare the puntarelle from Stevie Parle at the Guardian’s Organic Allotment Blog.
The leaves and shoots can both be cooked and combined in another robust recipe served with beans.
A recipe for a similar dish is here on Lidia Bastianich’s site.
The shoots are also great cut across into small tubes about 1cm long and added to pasta sauces, minestrones and casseroles.
I hope you’re convinced it’s an interesting vegetable to try. Here’s my next blog post on puntarelle about how to grow it.