Puntarelle alla Romana is a classic Roman winter salad; they are shoots from the chicory family called Cicoria Catalogna. They are crunchy and have a slightly bitter flavor. They are cut very thin and seasoned with garlic, anchovies, and vinegar.
To make Puntarelle alla Romana, only the shoots inside the vegetable are used. They are long and straight, resembling white asparagus.
Crunchy, tender, and slightly bitter, they are eaten raw like salad.
The Puntarelle are seasoned with an Anchovie vinaigrette, it is a perfect contrast to their slightly bitter taste.
They are usually in season from February till May, but you can now find them as early as October.
When you buy them, ensure they are fresh and that the outside leaves are solid and green.
There are two main types of Puntarelle:
Puntarelle di Galatina
They are grown in Puglia, and their shoots are short.
Puntarelle di Gaeta
They are grown in Lazio, and their shoots are longer.
The main difference between the two is the length of the shoots. Taste and texture are the same.
If you cannot find Puntarelle you can use Endive Escarole.
Puntarelle di Galatina
Puntarelle di Gaeta
Besides the Puntarelle, you will need the ingredients for the anchovy vinaigrette:
- Anchovies stored in salt: I prefer the anchovies stored in salt to the ones stored in olive oil as you never know what quality of olive oil has been used
- Garlic clove
- White wine vinegar: you can replace it with apple vinegar but do not use red wine vinegar or balsamic as their flavor will be too strong
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
See the recipe card for the quantity.
How to clean the Puntarelle
- Remove the outside leaves
Puntarelle di Galatina, Puglia
Puntarelle di Gaeta, Lazio
Hint: You can use the outside leaves for minestrone or soup.
- Cut the shoots into thin strings
- Leave them to rest in iced water
Hint: these puntarelle will not curl; they are too short. You need longer puntarelle
How to make curly puntarelle
If you are using the Puntarelle di Gaeta from Lazio, here is how to make them curl:
In Rome, we use a specific tool called "taglia puntarelle". You can find it on the European amazon. It is helpful but not necessary.
It has a wired metal frame that forms small squares. We push the puntarelle through the frame to cut them into spaghetti size.
As a substitution, you can use a vegetable chopper.
This is how we use it.
- Cut the hard base of the shoot. The tender part of the shoot is hollow inside, so you can feel it just by squeezing the shoot with two fingers
- Push the shoot through the frame.
Hint: If you do not have a puntarelle cutter, you can cut them with a knife.
- Once they are all cut like spaghetti, leave them to rest in iced water
- While you make the anchovy vinaigrette, they will slowly curl
Making the anchovy vinaigrette
If you are suing the anchovies stored in salt:
- Rinse the anchovies under running water to eliminate the salt.
- Remove the bone and fins from the anchovies fillets.
- Put the garlic, anchovies, extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar into a blender
- Mix until you have a nice smooth, creamy sauce
Seasoning the puntarelle
- Drain and spin the puntarelle to remove all the water
- Season with the anchovies vinaigrette
- Serve immediately as you want the puntarelle to maintain their crunchy texture
Variation and substitution
I prefer to use anchovies preserved in salt rather than oil because I like to add my own extra virgin olive oil. Who knows what the quality of their oil is?
This anchovy vinaigrette has a lovely garlicky, fishy, salty flavor which you can use as a dressing for any other salad.
To make a more refined dish, you can substitute the anchovies with Bottarga, cured salted mullet roe.
A classic Italian recipe with bottarga is spaghetti with bottarga di muggine.
Where to find Puntarelle
Puntarelle are grown around Rome, in Puglia, and other areas of the South of Italy.
Earlier it was a very localized dish, but now you can find them in many more farmer markets, even in the North of Italy.
They are not easy to find here in France; I have to go to the farmer's market in Ventimiglia or a specialized Italian market on the Riviera.
If you cannot find them, you can replace them with Endives Escarole.
These tools are good to have when you make puntarelle but they are not essential:
- If you want your puntarelle to curl, ensure the shoots are long. They are the Puntarelle di Gaeta originally from Lazio region
- For this recipe, we only use internal shoots. You can use the outside leaves for minestrone or soup.
- Let the shoots rest in cold water to curl
- If you cannot find puntarelle you can use Endive, Escarole.
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📋Puntarelle alla Romana
Making the anchovies vinaigrette
- In a small bowl blend the anchovies with the garlic, the extra virgin olive oil and the vinegar3 anchovies stored in salt, ½ clove peeled garlic cloves, 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Cleaning the puntarelle
- Remove the outer leaves of the puntarelle1 puntarelle head
- Cut the puntarelle into thin slices
- Put them in ice water to curl
- Once they are curled, drain the puntarelle
- Place them on a serving bowl
- Season with the anchovies vinaigrette
- Stir and serve immediately
- Look for Puntarelle in a specialized Italian market or substitute with Endive Escarole
- For curly Puntarelle buy Puntarelle di Gaeta
- Make sure they are fresh and that the outside leaves are strong and green
- Only use the shoots inside the vegetable head
- Make sure the shoots are long enough otherwise they will not curl
- Use the anchovies preserved in salt
- You do not need to add salt to the seasoning as the anchovies are already salted
- You can use as a dressing for any other salad.
What is EVOO oil
At first, I was perplexed when I saw the name EVOO, but then I realized that it is the short name for Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
But do you know what Extra Virgin means?
Olive oil to be called Extra Virgin has to have specific characteristics.
"First cold-pressed olive oil" means:
- it is the oil extracted from the first pressing of the olive
- the olive pressing should be mechanic and at temperatures not above 27 C - 80 F
- acidity level should be below 0.8% per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Simple virgin olive oil has an acidity limit of 2% per 100 g (3.5 oz) measured by instruments.
The quality of the extra virgin olive oil, instead, is based on organoleptic measurements done by experts tasting.
Difference between extra virgin olive oil and olive oil
Regular olive oil is extracted with chemical processes to eliminate organoleptic defects.
After this process the oil loses its color and taste, it is therefore mixed with extra virgin olive oil to give back the resemblance of olive oil.
The amount of extra virgin olive oil added is just the minimum necessary.
Using a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil is very important, it can completely change the flavor of any recipe.
I use extra virgin olive oil when I add it raw, but never use the virgin olive oil to make homemade mayonnaise, it just doesn’t work.
This chart created by ‘Jamie’s Italian’, beautifully describes the different types of olive oil, where it comes from and how professionals taste it.
The chart is very comprehensive in its explanation and description.
Storing extra virgin olive oil
Fortunately, several of my relatives produce olive oil, and every year my mother sends me 2.5 gallons - 10 liters.
So I am always sure about the quality of my olive oil.
October is the month when olive oil is pressed, and we always wait for the new harvest to stock up for the year.
After 1 year the olive oil loses its flavor and increases in acidity, so we never buy more than 10 liters. If needed, we buy more during the year.
Olive oil should be stored in a dark container that is light-resistant. That is why it is sold in cans or greenish bottles.
Every week I pour the virgin olive oil into small bottles to bring it to the table.
Sometimes I flavor it with hot chili or infuse garlic or herbs. However, I use it within two days or add some lemon to prevent the risk of botulism (toxic bacteria).