Seasonal Cooking 01 Jul 2012 09:50 pm
Mike Kokas of Paisley Farm says on his website that he “plants with the chef in mind.” That is, he grows things he thinks adventurous cooks are going to like. This year he’s growing something called “Chicory Catalogna Puntarelle.”
The leafy bundle of chicory greens was a curious sight to Paisley’s CSA members when they picked up this week’s delivery. My girlfriend Karol (a site coordinator for Paisley Farm’s CSA) wanted to find the best way to use this unfamiliar vegetable, so we asked our friend Inger-Lise McMillan to come over.
Lise is an excellent cook and an inveterate Italophile. She spent an undergraduate year in Bologna, then went back after graduation for a three-year stay. While she was there, one of her roommates taught her the classic Roman preparation for puntarelle dressed with a rustic sauce made from anchovies and garlic.
The long-stemmed leafy greens we got from Paisley were not actually the same puntarelle that Lise was familiar with. She was used to seeing the pinecone-shaped puntarelle head, which Romans slice thinly and cause to curl by soaking in water. What we got in our CSA delivery, apparently, were the puntarelle leaf ends.
Puntarelle chicory is a bitter-tasting green, and the pungency of anchovies is a perfect match for its bold flavor. If you want to take the edge off of puntarelle’s bitterness, a quick blanch in boiling water or a long soak in cold water is said to mellow them. When Lise came over to teach us her recipe, however, she opted to give the leaves a quick soak then chop them. Instead trying to make them taste milder, she upped the amount of anchovies in the dressing to balance the flavor.
For the dressing, she pounded several anchovy fillets in a mortar with garlic, salt, white pepper and white wine vinegar, then added just enough olive oil to bind everything together. If you prefer a smoother consistency you can mix everything in a blender or food processor, but we all liked the way the rustic, slightly chunky texture mixed with the crunchy greens.
The punterelle salad was ready in a flash, and we still had plenty of wine left to drink, so we set out to make orecchiette to accompany it. Pasta making is formost among Lise’s culinary talents, and none of us were quite able to match her perfectly-shaped “little ears” of pasta. We made a quick tomato sauce loaded with Paisley Farm basil to complete this great summer night’s dinner.