puntarelle {cleaning, eating + video}

I love winter vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower and fennel are all friends. But my favorite time of the year is when puntarelle start showing up in the markets.

If you’ve had puntarelle then you are probably swooning by now (it’s a love kind of thing). If you haven’t, then let me introduce you. Puntarelle is a type of chicory. Examining a head of puntarelle, it looks green and leafy – at least at first glance. But start to pry apart the outer leaves and you’ll soon find the pale green, crunchy center that sets this vegetable apart. The core of the vegetable grows into multiple pointy spears, that are almost asparagus like at the tips.

The taste is slightly bitter, with loads of crunch. In the winter, when it comes into season and is dressed with a lemony/garlic vinaigrette it’s what your sluggish body has been asking for, but didn’t realize . When I’ve tired of roasted root vegetables and every kind of boiled green, puntarelle is the fresh, crunch I crave.

Puntarelle is – like many of life’s pleasures – a pain to prep. First you must peel off the outer, dark green leafs. Then each spear must be cut off the central core. And finally, each tiny spear has to be cut lengthwise, into thin strips. The strips are then put into water, to lose some of their bitterness, and also to curl up.

Luckily, like all fussy vegetables, in Rome you can buy them prepared and ready to go at the most markets.

Back in the olden days (like ten years ago) the vendors in Campo dei Fiori would use a small, sharp knife to carefully cut the spears into strips. But then, all of a sudden, this nifty puntarelle cutter started showing up. I assumed each vendor made them himself, but it turns out it was one house ware guy who specialized in them. (It’s the stand across from the flower vendors) He’s even patented the thing, and has a web site.

The cutter is genius. A series of stainless steel wires are stretched across a small wooden frame, crossing to make a grid. The vegetable vendor then takes each puntarelle tip, and forces it through, before throwing it in its water bath to soak.

In case this is all too hard to understand, I’ve included a video. This way you have two choices. You can head over to your local market (if you are in Rome. Puntarelle are mostly a Rome thing) and buy a baggie of prepared puntarelle. Or, once you get to the market, buy your puntarelle whole, and pick up your own taglia puntarelle. Which ever way you do it, make sure to dress it with the incredibly addictive traditional dressing below.

Ooops! Forgot the third, most important and easiest option: order it in a restaurant whenever possible. Ask for it, since it may not even be on the menu, so fleeting is the season. My favorites include Pompiere and Da Gigetto, both in the Jewish Ghetto.

Puntarelle Dressing
(enough to dress about 6 cups of puntarelle, or other salad)

1 clove garlic
2 anchovies
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fresh pepper
juice from one lemon (about 1/4 cup juice)
1/3 cup olive oil

Put all the ingredients in a blender, and mix till blended. Taste and adjust. You might like it a bit less lemony, if so add more oil. But it is a very strong tasting dressing.

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  1. says

    I know its sacrilegious, but we serve Puntarelle in larger pieces where the flavors stand out more. There is local Puntarelle in the DC area and we augment the short season with Treviso grown puntarelle,

  2. says

    Thank you for the tutorial. I’ve always wanted to try this but I’ve never seen it in the market here in California. Guess I’ll have to wait for Italy!

    • says

      Yes, both are good substitutes, especially the endive since puntarelle is in fact and endive. I also use curly endive, which isn’t at crunchy, but stands up well to the garlicky dressing. I’ve never tried fennel, but now I will. I know Patricia Wells recommends celery, but I’m not so sure about that one.

  3. says

    I so love puntarelle and order it every time I see it on the menu in Rome. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find here in the US. I think I will also try and grow my own.
    I love the dressing so much I made put it on a raw zucchini salad on my blog a couple of years ago.
    The last time in Campo di Fiori, I saw one of those cutter for sale but could not bring myself to spend the 14 euro they wanted (I don’t think I was at the right guy). Next time I will look for it elsewhere.

    • Anonymous says

      The little hardware store in the historice Jewish neighbourhood in Rome had them last time I was there, admittedly a few years ago.

  4. says

    I love puntarelle and everyone who has ever tasted them with us loves them too. Hard to find in the USA though. Ally and I had a good dish of them at the Taverna Romana yesterday with a perfect dressing. Thanks for the great video, having done them by hand for so long, I need to get myself a puntarelle cutter too! I have posted your article on our Facebook page!

  5. says

    I miss Rome, miss the Campo di Fiore, miss the puntarelle…have to check out Eataly (NYC) and see if they bring it in.

    wonderful post — thank you.

  6. Anonymous says

    Our best source for great puntarelle is Tierra Vegetables from Santa Rosa, which we buy at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in San Francisco. This is where we first found it though now we look for it in Rome. Excellent!

  7. Elizabeth says

    Puntarelle is available in Chicago right now at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park at the Green Acres Farm stand. I am about to try it!


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