Puntarelle Salad

Puntarelles, or Puntarella, appeared at my farmer’s market this spring. I had no idea what they were, but a sign suggested serving them with a dressing of anchovies, garlic, and olive oil. I took the pretty bunch of dark, slender leaves home and tried out the recipe with a few variations, and have been eating them all summer long.

Puntarelles are a bitter green used in Italian cuisine, particularly in Rome. They are in the chicory family, and look very much like miniature dandelion greens. Like all dark leafy greens, Puntarelles are high in calcium and iron, and are a strong source of beta-carotene and vitamins B, C, and E. Their bitter flavor aids digestion.

Before eating, Puntarelles should be soaked in ice water for as little as an hour or as long as overnight. The soaking mellows the bitterness, and also makes the stems get crisp and curl up. That’s how they are traditionally prepared in Rome, where I hear you can buy the soaked and curled stems for 6 euros a bag.

The dressing is a wonderfully fragrant concoction that condenses the key flavors of Mediterranean cuisine, with the distinctly French touch of mustard thrown in. The strong flavors of the anchovies and garlic, along with the fat from the olive oil, combine with the taste of the Puntarelles to produce a surprising sweetness. The overall flavor is complex and rich, similar to a Caesar salad, but with a deep bass note from the dark greens.

To lighten the intensity of the salad, add garlicky croutons. They turn the dish into more of a meal. I like the Puntarelles on their own, but they make a perfect accompaniment to Tortilla Española, another recipe in the Lucid Food series.

Be careful with this recipe to start with a modest amount of salt, as the anchovies are already quite salty. If you end up with leftovers, the greens are hearty enough that the salad will still be good the next day if refrigerated overnight.

Time: 1 hour

1 bunch Puntarelle leaves
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 anchovies
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
Dash salt
Black pepper
Optional: garlic croutons

Cut off the stems of the Puntarelles and set aside the leaves. Slice the stems thinly lengthwise and place them in a bowl of ice water. Gently agitate the stems in the water to remove any dirt. Set a timer for 1 hour and set aside. Take the leaves and slice them crosswise into ½ inch strips. Add them to the ice water with the stems, again agitate to help remove dirt, and set aside.

To make the dressing, place the garlic and anchovies in a mortar and pestle and grind them until they are broken down into a paste. Transfer the mashed garlic and anchovies to a large bowl and add lemon zest and juice, olive oil, mustard, and a dash of salt. Whisk the mixture with a fork or small whisk until the ingredients are emulsified.

Lift the soaked Puntarelle stems and leaves out of the ice water and dry them in a salad spinner. Add the dried stems and leaves to the bowl of dressing and fold in, tossing gently until they are thoroughly coated. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Serve with freshly ground black pepper. Optional: garnish with garlicky croutons. You may also serve the Puntarelles with the Tortilla Espanola (recipe #_).

Yield: 4 servings

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