Puntarelle is a type of Italian chicory, especially popular around Rome, but virtually impossible to find in the UK. I’ve tried growing it from seed for the last couple of years but have yet to get a truly satisfactory crop. Like other types of chicory, the seeds can be sown in late spring directly into the open ground. They germinate readily, and when mature, around October-December time, should have developed a swollen heart of tightly packed leaves and shoots, protected by the outer leaves. The growing plants need to be kept weed-free and watered regularly but need little in the way of specialist care. So far, I have managed copious numbers of floppy outer leaves, and not so much in the way of juicy, crunchy heart, which is where the true flavour and texture of puntarelle lies.
|Puntarelle sends up lots of loose outer leaves before developing its inner heart. Take care when weeding the puntarelle bed: the young plants do look a lot like dandelions.|
Having said puntarelle is particularly associated with Rome, I was delighted to find the market stalls were groaning with plump puntarelle heads on a trip to Venice earlier this month, so while I wait to get a decent crop in England, I was able to make some fresh puntarelle salad for myself.
The traditional way to prepare puntarelle is with an anchovy dressing, Roman style. The outer leaves should be removed (don’t throw them away: they’re too bitter to eat raw but can be blanched and then braised or added to a casserole) to reveal the tightly packed core with lots of shoots and buds. These are light and crunchy with a slightly bitter edge, as you would expect from a chicory.
Ever hopeful, I will be sowing puntarelle again in a couple of months time in the UK, in anticipation of fresh Roman-style chicory to keep me going over the next winter.
Seeds: Cicoria Catalogna Puntarelle Brindisina, from Franchi Seeds