Little points, big salad – Puntarelle

When my two children were little, I would sometimes utter my love for them with the following exclamations.  “You are my favourite daughter!” and “You are my favourite son!”  I think it’s important to be a favourite with someone … and there was no rivalry, obviously, between them because of course there was a difference in gender.  It wasn’t until they were a little older, say seven or eight years old, that they questioned me about this with raised eyebrow and a look of “aha! gotcha!”.

“It’s easy enough to say C. is your favourite daughter and that N. is your favourite son.  But what would have happened if we’d had a brother or a sister?  What then, hey? Who would have been your favourite then?”

And that’s when I replied (whichever angel inspired me, thank you yet again!) “Oh that’s easy!  C. would have been my favourite first-born, N. would have been my favourite second-born, and the third child would have been my favourite third child.  You see, all children are favourite children.  That’s why we parents love them so.”

Phew.

So, for the intents of this blog, when I write ‘favourite son’ … I use the adjective with flippant nonchalance because I also have a favourite daughter.  And there has always been hardly any competition between the two.  Even as concerns food preferences.  Daughter likes pasta with tomato sauce, son preferred white sauce.  Daughter likes spinach hates mushrooms, son likes mushrooms, hates spinach.  Son adores polenta, daughter hates the consistency.  Both love rice.  Neither of them is very keen on fish fish (whole fish), much preferring shellfish, crustaceans and squid.   Both adore chocolate.   Neither can stomach brussel sprouts.  Our home is a brussel-sprout-free zone.

It has at times been a bit of a challenge for me to cook a dinner that everyone would enjoy and I got around that by making more than one main dish on occasion, and always at least two side dishes (contorni).  I am very against forcing children to eat food they do not enjoy … although I periodically invited both my children to at least taste a new food (“you can spit it out if you don’t like it!” I would exhort).

Anyway, all this to say that favourite son was coming home for Easter vacation not so long ago … and as I went about shopping for food at the market, I came across some “puntarelle” … the ends of a chicory plant (‘puntarelle’ meaning ‘small points’) that are used to make a salad.  I was a little surprised because puntarelle salad is typical of just before Christmas time — and the lady at the stall told me that indeed these were the last puntarelle for this season.

Puntarelle salad is one of my favourite son’s favourite salads – so what was I to do?  Of course I bought some.  And I also bought a puntarelle cutter (Eu 10)and cut the puntarelle myself!  Normally, one buys the puntarelle already cut and prepared by the vegetable seller.

The title of this blog is very true: these little ‘points’ make for a big-tasting, robust salad.  It includes garlic, salted anchovies, red vinegar, over and above olive oil.  What distinguishes it from other salads that are made with salad leaves is that it must be dressed at least half an hour before eating.  The vinegary dressing ‘cooks’ the puntarelle, so to speak, into sublime submission.  If you don’t like garlic or vinegar … this is not the salad for you.

This little square tool … it is a little metal grid that turns a sheaf of chicory … into puntarelle!

And here are the puntarelle … the tips of the chicories.  In this dish are also some greener parts of the chicory that are not normally included in the all-white puntarelle salad … but I was having fun and added them anyway.

I have yet to taste the wonderful anchovies that hail from the West Coast of Spain, called ‘Cantabrico’.  I know they are considered to be the best in the world.  I make do with some of the best in Italy, from Sicily … called Alici di Cetara.  This jar comes at Eu 9.50.  It may sound like a lot of money … but the anchovies are so tasty that a little goes a long way.

I extracted two fillets of ancovy and washed the salt away and patted them dry.  And I introduced them to two cloves of garlic.

I then sliced the garlic and shredded the anchovies in a glass jar.

I mashed them up with this wooden instrument … an upside-down wooden instrument … an upside-down wooden instrument that is normally used to make mojitos.

I then added a good amount of red wine vinegar.  Puntarelle craves ONLY normal wine vinegar, preferably red.  Balsamic vinegar is not an option.

I then gloated whilst I poured in some lovely, consistently finger-licking olive oil from Tenuta di Colle Maria (the extra-virgin olive oil my friend Liz produces, entirely organic, milled at a proper milling site which is modern in technology and traditional in outlook).

Mix the dressing and pour over the puntarelle …

Wash your hands and mix the salad the proper way … with the sensitivity of  your bare hands.  The English speakers ‘toss’ their salads, the French ‘tire’ it out (‘fatiguer la salade’), the Italians ‘condiment’ their salad (‘condire’) which sounds less strenuous.

A close-up …

A puntarelle salad requires a lot of good bread to mop up the dressing.

It’s a good job that our son’s favourite salad is liked by the rest of the family too …!

P.S.  The following video on youtube is excellent for showing how the puntarelle are trimmed and cut into shape by the grid.  The interesting thing for me, that I hadn’t known until today when I watched the video, is that it is only the upper part of the puntarelle leaf that is truly ‘edible’ … the rest is basically a bit tough, like a root.

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About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in Contorni and/or side dishes, italian home food, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Little points, big salad – Puntarelle

  1. Diane says:

    Just found your blog and really am enjoying reading through all your posts! I live in a small village outside Rome but am originally from NY. I’ve been in Italy for about 7 years… and there’s still a lot I’ve got to learn about Italian cooking. Luckily making pasta, sauce and contorni every day gives me lots of chances to practice! Ciao, Diane

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