Sunday, 17 November 2013

Food Encounters of the Fresh Kind

Insalata di Puntarelle, Arancia & Cipolla Rossa con Pepe "Szechuan"
Puntarelle, Orange & Red Onion Salad with Szechuan Pepper

I guess you all know it by now, but I love my Puntarelle, those little alien-like Roman chicory "pods" that are just so cool-looking, as well as being delicious! As I have already mentioned, if you can't get these where you are, you can make the same thing using radicchio or a regular chicory or endive green as the flavor is basically the same. The difference here is that the little individual bulbs of the puntarelle are so firm and juicy-  which makes them a real treat!

I decided to do something a little different to the traditional Roman preparation with olive oil, anchovy paste and lemon juice and to make a nice Winter salad with a bit of a twist- in this case by adding Szechuan pepper rather than the regular black pepper, or the red pepper corns I used last time. I like Szechuan, as it is not really an actual pepper, it is more of a berry and yes it does have a slight fruitiness to its flavor- which made it a perfect addition to this salad!

There was a little preparation involved- but nothing dramatic! I started by zesting the orange before I cut away the peel and cut out the separate fillets- a but tricky and not absolutely necessary... but definitely more elegant and nicer... go on- you can do it!

I then squeezed out the juice from the remaining left-over orange and kept this to make the dressing. The next step though was to finely slice- and I mean really finely, a little red onion- just a half of a small one is plenty for 2 portions of salad. 
Raw onion is actually nice, but of course it neither makes your breath small particularly good, nor is it nice when you wake up the morning after... ugh. If you cut the onion very thinly though and drop it into the orange juice with a pinch of sugar, it will reduce the astringent essential oils in it and make it much more pleasant to eat, whilst adding seasoning to the dressing.

Next of course, the punterelle themselves needed to be cut and finely sliced. I pulled away the larger, outer leaves from the plant, and then snapped the individual little pods off, then cut away the thick, "stem end" of each pod before slicing lengthways. You will look at these things and wonder which is the best way to go about slicing them as they have such a weird shape- but let me tell you- there is no trick! Just cut it in half and slice away in the direction that the things grow and you will be fine- lol!

I put the sliced puntarelle into the bowl that the onions and orange juice were in and added a good splash of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and a little white wine vinegar. I stirred everything nicely together and let it sit and marinate for a while, whilst I ground up the Szechuan pepper...

The Szechuan pepper was a nice finishing touch, as the dressing was lacking that certain "hot" or "spicy" component. I ground up just a half teaspoon, with a mortar and pestle, making sure to get it nice and fine and being especially careful that there were none of the stems of the pepper corns remaining when I was finished... they are tricky little devils and not fun to eat!

All I needed to do now was to dish up the salad, add the orange slices, evenly spread and sprinkle the onion and the juices, which will of course sink to the bottom of the bowl, on top. Then came the Szechuan pepper of course and then all that I needed to do was to grab a fork and enjoy! And I have to say that I really did! And I will go on to say that you most certainly will too!


  1. So jealous you have access to puntarelle. Can't find it over here for love or money!

  2. I have no idea why my reply from a couple of weeks back didn't "post" here Frank- I'm sorry!
    And I hear you- puntarelle are really wonderful! I saw them again at the market today- sigh! Wish I could send some to you! Best wishes, Francesco