Puntarelle Salad

“Aò, nun vedi che stai a fà un casino?” (Hey you, you are making a mess, don’t you see?)

We were sharing the first course, a big plate of steaming, saucy tagliatelle al sugo d’involtino. Or trying at least, as I was failing in the attempt of splitting it: I stained the tablecloth while trying to transfer a forkful of tagliatelle on my plate, and succeeded in creating a very intricate bundle. The waitress hurried toward us and promptly sorted things out – not without commenting on my poor performance. She stripped the two forks I was clumsily holding, and skillfully rolled the tagliatelle into two perfect portions. They were fantastic, of course, like the rest of the meal, of the day, of our stay in Rome.

We were lodging in a small apartment not far from the Vatican – or better said, not far from Bonci’s pizza spot in Via della Meloria. On New Year’s Eve we woke up to a bright, sunny, spring-like day, and made plans to take the metro to the Piramide, wander around Testaccio and Trastevere, and fit a good meal in between. “You must try Da Felice”, a friend told us. We phoned and booked a table for a late lunch.

The morning started with some idle contemplation under the shady trees of the beautiful, peaceful, sacred cemetery where Keats rests – easily, my favourite place in the whole city. The Protestant Cemetery is a corner of quiet and beauty that prepares you for the immersion in the crowded neighborhoods, busy streets and touristy areas. It doesn’t, actually, but it helps. Time flew, and hunger caught us by surprise. On the way to the trattoria, wandering around Testaccio, we stumbled upon the popular food market, and dived into the atmosphere, the noises, the life and colours coming from every stall. Everything was so different from the quiet market we had grown used to in Bra – the produce, for starters, but also the louder and warmer attitude of people.

At lunch, we had the instant impression of being amongst the locals and treated as such. Service was fast, the menu a voce, the wine list short and easy. We ordered a bottle of Aglianico (I don’t even remember the producer, it didn’t seem to matter back then I guess). I mentioned we split the primo: tagliatelle coated by a decadent and rich tomato sauce infused with the juices of veal rolls, which were then taken out and served as a second course. For secondo, I received a delicious puddle of sauce surrounding the biggest meatball I had ever seen in my eating career while the classic abbacchio con patate (roasted lamb with potatoes) landed in front of J. Aided by the multiple glasses of wine, we were quite emotionally moved by the view.

While we were busy digging in, bread in hand to mop every single drop of delicious sauce or rosemary-infused oil, our side dish arrived: puntarelle, what else? I have been raving about these greenish curls topped with anchovy sauce for ages, without ever been able to find the head of puntarelle in any Northern market to make them myself. So that was my first time eating them, and busy as I was between a bite of tender, sweet meatball with sauce, one of crunchy, bitter, fishy puntarelle, a morsel of bread and a sip of wine to erase flavours and start again, I was somehow, mesmerised.

Euphoric and full, we left the restaurant and walked along the Tiber up until the bridge that connects Testaccio with Trastevere, and then further, up to the Gianicolo, and down again along the walls of the Vatican. New Year’s Eve went like that, sweet and easy, unplanned and sunny. At midnight, we climbed up the Gianicolo again to see the fireworks lighting the Roman sky. And in case you are wondering, yes, we had skipped dinner: that meal left us happily nurtured until the new year.


Puntarelle Salad

This tried and true recipe for Puntarelle comes from Rachel, who lives in Testaccio, has the best fruttivendolo ever and has developed a true skill for dealing with this chicory-like vegetable. Mine doesn’t look as curly and pretty as hers, but I want to believe it is for lack of practice and skill. The recipe should be for Puntarelle alla Romana, but since mine doesn’t look quite the same, I prefer to call it a salad  for now. 

1 head of puntarelle
Iced water
2 cloves of garlic,
5 good quality salted anchovy fillets
2 Tbsp of good red wine or balsamic vinegar
5 Tbsp good olive oil
A generous
pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon (optional)

Remove the outer leaves from the puntarelle head until you get to the white, hollow bulbs in the middle. Reserve the leaves for other preparations, and use like you would chicory (I reserved some of the smaller leaves and added them to the final salad, but this is quite an unusual move, so feel free to leave them out). Then, using a sharp knife, cut each bulb lengthways into thin slices and drop them into a large bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes. Leave the slices soaking for at least an hour, during which time they should curl up and become crisp – especially if you cut them thin enough. No worries if they don’t – taste isn’t affected.

In the meantime, prepare the dressing. Mince the garlic into a paste using the flat side of the knife blade, then mince the anchovies using the same technique. In a jar, shake the anchovies with the vinegar until the anchovies have disintegrated. Add the garlic, the oil and a good pinch of salt. Shake again and allow the dressing to sit for 10 minutes.

Drain the puntarelle and gently spin it dry. Give the dressing another shake, then pour it into the serving bowl. Add the puntarelle, grind over some black pepper and toss to coat. Allow the salad to sit for a few minutes, then toss again and serve with lemon slices.


  1. racheleats February 24, 2014

    This is lovely and not just because I know exactly where and what you are talking about so well. I agree with you about everything, the cemetery, the market (well put) about the mesmerizing taste of that dressing. You have a way of expressing an emotional response to food and memory so well and I am happy to be part of it x

    • Valeria February 27, 2014

      Food plays a big role in it too – its ability to surprise and evoke…and last in memory and time. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and the great recipe! x

    • Cheri Savory Spoon March 1, 2014

      What a beautiful post. Always something to look forward to.

    • Valeria March 2, 2014

      Thank you so much Cheri 🙂

  2. JDart February 27, 2014

    I remember how I had to rely on you so much in Rome for helping me understand the language. I especially struggle with the menu "a voce". But the results always come out the best. Too many people forget that the best Italian dishes are usually the simplest ones. Strong, basic flavors.

    • Valeria February 27, 2014

      Indeed, the menu a voce wasn't an easy one, but great pleasures comes from little efforts 🙂 x

  3. Pola M March 5, 2014

    One of my favorite sides! Will have to start looking for them overe here!

  4. Valeria March 6, 2014

    If you can find them let me know – my husband is from the Mid West he is very curious now 🙂


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