My friend Jess wrote me recently to tell me that puntarelle has appeared at my beloved Booth’s, at Spa Terminus near Maltby Street, in London. Puntarelle is a variety of chicory grown in Italy with an unusually brief growing season, a traditional method of preparation, and a fanatical following. It is wonderfully bitter, and very crunchy. In a classic puntarelle salad, the stiff inner spears of the vegetable are julienned into narrow strips, and simply dressed in a garlicky anchovy dressing. In Rome (or so I have read, on this wonderful blog post), during puntarelle season, it is in markets everywhere. Some Roman vendors sell a taglia puntarelle, which simplifies the process of slicing the puntarelle, or you can buy it pre-cut. In London, I would julienne the puntarelle myself, put the strips in a bowl of ice water to curl, and warm some minced garlic in olive oil just until it became fragrant. I whisked this with a generous amount of chopped salted anchovy fillets, lemon juice, and plenty of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. This simple salad is one of my favorites.
Puntarelle is difficult to find in the United States, as it is grown primarily on small farms and sold locally. This salad, tossed with my own Caesar dressing, is my homage to the puntarelle I love so much in London. I made this salad with Tuscan (lacinato) kale, chicory, toasted hazelnuts and shaved aged parmesan, but the dressing, made with plenty of lemon juice, anchovies, and garlic, will complement any greens, including, of course, hearts of romaine and garlicky croutons, and especially bitter greens like chicory, escarole, or radicchio.
There are a couple of tricks to keep in mind. First, the egg should be gently coddled, which makes the dressing emulsify better. Second, the garlic should either be finely grated on a microplane or pulverized into a pulp in a mortar and pestle. It should not be chopped or put through a garlic press, as it needs to blend completely with the rest of the ingredients. In my not-so-humble opinion, this dressing has just the right balance of salty umami anchovy, garlic, and lemon. Measurements, accordingly, are in grams, for precision.
For the salad:
One large bunch (about 20 stalks) of Tuscan (Lacinato) Kale, leaves stripped from stems and sliced into narrow strips
½ head of chicory, puntarelle, or escarole, or one whole radicchio, torn into bite-sized pieces
55 grams (about two ounces) toasted skinned hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
For the dressing:
3 grams fresh garlic (about one large clove), pulverized into a paste with a mortar and pestle or finely grated on a microplane
1 medium egg
10 grams finely minced flat salted anchovy fillets in oil
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
100 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
14 grams (1/2 ounce) finely grated aged parmesan, plus an additional 14 grams shaved with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife
1.5 teaspoons salt
Prep the salad ingredients, setting the nuts aside.
To make the dressing, first immerse the egg in boiling water for two minutes. Do this by putting the egg in a cup or small bowl, and pouring the boiling water over it. Crack the egg into a larger bowl in which you’ll mix your dressing, add the olive oil and garlic, and whisk until thoroughly blended. Whisk in the lemon juice, anchovies, parmesan and salt and pepper, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. This recipe makes approximately 220 ml of dressing.
To serve, either toss the greens in the dressing, plate individually, and garnish with chopped hazelnuts and shaved parmesan, or toss all of the ingredients together as a salad.
Makes approximately four main course servings, or six to eight side salad portions.