Wanted in Rome recipe: Puntarelle alla Romana

In winter one of the most common vegetable side dishes in the Eternal City is puntarelle alla romana

By Kate Zagorski

These curly, green strips are usually seen bobbing in large buckets of water at Rome’s markets, ready to be drained and served with their traditional garlic and anchovy vinaigrette.

Puntarelle come from a variety of chicory called cicoria catalogna. The outer leaves of the bulky, frondy plant are spulled off and the chunky inner stems are strimmed into strips with a sharp knife (or pushed through a natty gadget called a taglia puntarelle) then placed into very cold water where after about five minutes they will begin to curl up into their distinctive twists. The preparation procedure is fiddly and labourious, so it is quicker and simpler to buy the ‘ready-to-dress’ puntarelle, making sure that they are well drained before adding the vinaigrette.    

The crunchy texture and slightly bitter flavour of puntarelle along with the salty anchovies and a punchy hit of garlic makes this recipe an ideal plate-fellow for roasted lamb or pork, but they could also be squeezed into a sandwich with cheese or cured meats.

Serves 4

500g puntarelle, trimmed

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

8 anchovy fillets

2-3 garlic cloves

Drain and dry the cleaned puntarelle, place them into a large salad bowl. Blend together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and anchovies until emulsified. If you prefer a chunkier dressing chop the garlic and whisk the ingredients together with a hand whisk or fork, leaving some larger pieces of garlic and anchovy. The anchovies should be salty enough not to need extra seasoning but taste and add salt if necessary. Toss the dressing with the puntarelle and serve.

Kate Zagorski has lived in Italy since 2000. Married to a food-obsessed Roman chef, she leads food tours and also works as a freelance food and travel writer.