Also known as Asparagus Endive or cichoria di catalogna, this is one of the rarest, most unrecognized garden vegetables of all in North America. It's also an absolute delicacy. In the garden, it looks like many other chicories, with tall, upright, dandelion-like leaves that grow to 40cm (16"), forming a rosette. The leaves are technically edible, but quite bitter — cooking will reduce the bitterness substantially. But the real business of the Puntarelle happens as the plant begins to send up a flower stalk from the centre of the rosette. The central stem produces a dozen or more side shoots that are crisp and hollow, and ribbed on the inside like celery.
The immature stems are harvested and split into thin strips along their length, and then immersed in ice water. After soaking for about an hour, they curl into the most delightful, crunchy, refreshing coils. Traditionally, they form the base for the salad known as Puntarelle alla Romana, which uses a dressing of emulsified garlic and anchovy with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We tried it. It's delicious! These centre portions of the flower stalk are slightly bitter, but pleasantly so, like radicchio, yet sweeter.
The plants are cold hardy for spring, summer, or fall harvests. Cut the whole plant at the soil level, and (like many chicories) more heads will grow back.
Matures in 70 days. (Open-pollinated seeds)
The chicory family includes the food plants endive and radicchio, which range in flavour from bitter to sweet. All varieties become sweeter, and lose much of their bitterness, when cooked. Try a hot oil salad dressing over endive, or a barbecued head of radicchio! Follow along with this handy How to Grow Endive and Radicchio Guide and grow food.