The grand charm of Italian cooking lies in its sheer, stunning simplicity. A few flavours – simple, fresh and always of the very highest quality, carefully paired together to make something utterly dreamy – is what Italy does quite like no where else. Think, mozzarella and tomato with basil, for example; figs with parma ham; burrata with a peppering of pomegranate seeds. All wonderfully decadent to eat, and blissfully simple to toss together. This puntarella salad is an impeccable example of this way of cooking, a way of cooking which I love. Puntarella is a spiky, bitter green that comes into season right about now – you will see it at the markets. The dressing that I like to serve with it is gloriously salty – a few anchovy fillets, lemon juice and a little oil whisked together. Though almost absurdly simple to make, you will find this dish deeply rewarding to eat – and just what you crave on a sunny Spring day.
Insalata di Puntarella
(Roman Chicory Salad with an Anchovy Dressing)
Puntarella is a kind of chicory, most commonly eaten in Rome and the Lazio region, though we have it in Venice too! This is barely a recipe, just very fine slices of puntarella with a gorgeous anchovy dressing. If you struggle to source puntarella, you can substitute it for another kind of chicory and douse it in the dressing.
Serves: 6-8, as a side dish
Prep Time: 20 mins
Allow the puntarella to soak in cold water for a couple of hours
1 large head of puntarella
1 clove of garlic
5 anchovy fillets
4 tbsps olive oil
The outer leaves of the puntarella are very bitter, so cut them away and discard. Take the inner leaves along with the core of the head and finely slice them into thin strips (roughly 3-4 mm thick). Fill a large bowl with cold water, toss the strips of chicory into the bowl and set in the fridge for 1-2 hours. You will find that the strips curl up, this gives a really nice texture to the salad. Meanwhile make the dressing: peel and crush the garlic, finely chop the anchovies and toss the two together into a small bowl; squeeze in the juice of the lemon and drizzle in the oil before mixing together with a fork. When you are ready to serve the salad, drain the water from the puntarella and pat the stalks dry with a tea towel, toss onto a serving dish and drizzle with the dressing. Eat straight away.