Saturday, 2 November 2013

When in Rome...

Puntarelle alla Romana con Crema di Acciughe & Pepe Rosso
Roman-Styled Puntarelle with Anchovy Paste & Cracked Red Pepper Corns

The first time I saw Puntarelle at the market hall, I was intrigued as to what they were, these strange chicory-like plants, with the heart of juicy little bulbs, so unusual and totally different to anything I had ever seen before. Nina at the market explained to me that this was Roman chicory, with the same mildly bitter flavor as radicchio or endive- and that was all I needed to hear to make me want to try it!

And it was not only love at first sight, but also at first taste, as the little "pods" or "bulbs" nestling inside the long outer leaves were so crunchy and juicy- just a terrific salad green whichever way you looked at it. I was hooked! But it was only on my recent trip to Rome that I, a not-so-mad-about-fish eater, tried the traditional preparation, made with anchovy past... and who knew that it would prove to be so terrific?! Not I and that's for sure!

So today, as soon as I arrived at her market stall, Nina came and gave me a hug, which is unusual for her... and whispered into my ear that she had something for me... of course- the first puntarelle of the season! Fresh from Rome, straight off the truck and onto the shelf- it was my lucky day!

Which of course meant I needed to go and buy a tube of anchovy paste... I wanted to re-create what I had enjoyed on my vacation and had been waiting to be able to do so since I got back. I picked up lemons too- the only other thing I needed other than a good olive oil... which is probably my favorite thing about this dish: it is so simple and so perfect, there is absolutely no going wrong! 

Ok- at this point, before those of you who are not fortunate enough to be able to get puntarelle get upset or frustrated reading this- let me just suggest that you use the same dressing on radicchio, trevisano or endives and let me console you by saying that it will taste very similar... so don't fret too much!

In my case though, it was the puntarelle, which of course needed to be washed first. I cut off the bottom, pulled off the outer leaves and then cut off each individual pod. I saved the leaves as I will eat those later, cooked, as a simple "cicoria" dish later in the week. I rinsed the puntarelle and then cut each of the pods lengthways into thin slices, as you can see in the photos. I spun them dry and then got busy with the dressing... how cool that it literally only takes a minute to make! 

For one head of puntarelle, I used 2 tablespoons of anchovy paste, the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sugar and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Now, I don't know if that's exactly what they do in Rome- but it is exactly what I did in Frankfurt! I whisked it together and it soon became a nice, rich, smooth dressing. Basically that was it!

There is no need for any added salt as the anchovy paste is very salty in itself and in fact, the pinch of sugar did it good as it also helped to counter-balance the bitter lemon juice. The only further seasoning it needed was some pepper- regular black pepper is of course just fine, but this evening I opted for some cracked red pepper corns, just because they looked prettier.

All I needed to do now was to add the shredded puntarelle into the bowl with the dressing and to stir them through, over and over until they were nicely, lightly coated. Just a little dressing goes a long way... and trust me- too much will be overkill. The flavor is VERY rich- but it goes so well with the fresh, bitter leaves... you are going to love it! And I say that as an almost no-fish kinda guy! Just try it and see if you don't agree! 

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