Monday, 21 April 2014

Roman- Sicilian- Fusion

Puntarelle alla Siciliana
"Sicilian Styled" Puntarelle Salad

What happens when a British-born Sicilian travels to Rome and falls in love with their most wonderful of all salad-greens, called "Puntarelle"? He returns to Frankfurt, Germany where he lives (of all places!)... only to discover that his Sicilian grocer stocks them! And what happens then, is that his love deepens and then blossoms into a blend of Roman and Sicilian traditions... and ends up as an incredible salad, in a lovely hand-painted bowl for all of you to see! Of course, only after he has eaten it that is!

I have to say at this point, that these Puntarelle were by far the biggest and best I have ever seen or ever eaten. I know that most of you will be lucky if you can get them wherever you live at all- unless you live in Rome! But before you gasp in awe at the sight of them, I think it is only fair to remind you at this point that you can prepare this same salad using endives, radicchio or dandelion greens too and have a similar flavor. But having said that... read on and prepare to enjoy the view!

You may not be familiar with Puntarelle... or you may have seen them right here on my blog on the previous occasions that I have prepared them... but the fact of the matter is that these here were literally at least 4 times as long as any I have ever seen before.

I plucked away some of the long, outer leaves, so that you can see the "stalks" of the puntarelle inside. Normally, the sprouts in the middle of the plant are no larger than your thumb, approximately speaking... but these here were a good 12" in length!

Once I cut away the root-end, the Puntarelle came apart into separate individual stalks, thicker than a large white asparagus... and in fact, what was unusual about these was that they actually looked a little bit like asparagus!

They are pretty impressive looking, aren't they?!?!?

I sliced them up finely on a diagonal, which obviously made them much easier to eat- especially these particularly large ones, although the traditional way would be to cut them into thin strips length-ways. Either was is good... the important thing is that you don't have pieces that are too large as it is as crunchy and refreshing to eat as it looks in those pictures, with a light bitterness which can be compared to that of endives or radicchio.

And once the puntarelle were nicely, finely cut, all that needed to be done was to prepare an awesome dressing... easy! If a little unusual at first glance ;-)

The main ingredients for the dressing were anchovies and pine nuts. Anchovies are traditional ingredients in the Roman preparation of puntarelle- normally they are combined with olive oil and lemon juice and that is an absolutely incredible combination already as it is. But I decided to add the pine nuts and later some raisins as well, as pine nuts and raisins are quite quintessentially Sicilian- and I just felt the pairing would taste amazing...

So, to make enough dressing for one head of Puntarelle, I used 3 anchovies, a tablespoon of pine nuts, the juice of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. These all went into my mortar, to be ground by hand using the pestle, but of course you can also use a blender or other kitchen gadget should you prefer.

Make sure to crush the pine-nuts as these will help make the dressing thicker- the anchovies soon disintegrate and these 2 elements go to bind together the oil and lemon juice into a smotth, creamy dressing. I then added a teaspoon of honey and a little finely chopped lemon zest- but that was all! No salt, on account of the anchovies and a little honey on account of sourness of the lemon juice.

Next, I toasted 3 teaspoons of pine nuts and about the same amount of raisins in a dry frying pan- when you do this, make sure to keep an eye on them as they takes ages to get there, but as soon as the temperature is right they will turn brown in the blink of an eye! And at the same time, the raisins will swell up because of the heat and become juicier and more delicious too!

And basically, dear friends... at this point you have done all of your hard work- isn't that terrific? All you need to do now is to decide which bowl you want to serve your salad up in... and to do so! You already have that incredible dressing and the other ingredients ready... who knew you could do something this wonderful so quickly?!?!

Spoon the dressing over the salad generously and once it is evenly and well coated, sprinkle with the toasted pine-nuts and raisins. At this point you should be adding some freshly ground pepper at least... or should you want it to have more temperament, you could also go ahead and add...

...plenty of peperoncino, or crushed, ground chili flakes, to give it a touch of Sicilian heat! Fear not as it will not be too hot and spicy, should you choose to add the chili flakes, as the strong flavors of the nuts, raisins and lemon juice go well to balance the heat of the spice.

This is a very simple affair as you can see- but one that simply works! And as I already mentioned, should you be intrigued but not able to find puntarelle, you can easily get a very similar flavor by combining the other ingredients and the dressing with radicchio.

I do hope these have cought your eyes- and your imaginations- and that you go out and try this slightly exotic dressing out for yourselves- I have to say that I absolutely love it and I am not much of a fish eater as it happens. There is no fishy taste at all once the ingredients are blended together, the anchovies replace the need for salt and the honey, raisins and lemon juice make it very un-fishy! Basically the anchovies do the same job that a fish-sauce does in Thai cuisine.

So give it a go and let me know what you think! I know what I think... and I think that I now love these things even more!

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