Every time I go to the market I find something new and fascinating. Usually it’s the food; some prepped and ready to cook vegetable dish or a new seasonal arrival at the market that merits being photographed and then eaten. I also love to chat with the vendors and see what they’re up to. It’s no small task to clean dozens upon dozens of artichokes daily, to prepare the minestrone and ribollita that’s for sale and, in this season, to clean the puntarelle.
Puntarelle, pre-cleaning, look like this:
and once cleaned and placed in acidulated water (cold water with lots of fresh squeezed lemon juice) they look like this:
and once you get them home, drain and toss them in their olive oil/garlic/anchovy/white wine vinegar dressing they look like this:
The taste is nothing short of amazing. Hence, they sell like crazy when they’re in season. They are so easy to make, that is, assuming you’re not doing the cleaning. I don’t know anyone who actually buys the uncleaned puntarelle. It’s a laborious, time-consuming task that yields very little satisfaction in the food-prep department.
The market vendors are amazing to watch cleaning all the different types of produce and they are incredibly fast and adept at these tasks. Yet even they look for the faster, easier way. Today the elderly zio of one of my vendors was cleaning puntarelle with a hand-made tool that I would best describe as an artisanal julienne device. He was using it to clean the puntarelle by pushing them through the device, rather than slicing them with a knife the traditional way.
I loved this little tool and managed to purchase one of their spares from them. I thought I’d be able to use it on other vegetables (no, I still had no intention of cleaning puntarelle) like carrots and zucchini. Once I studied the tool better at home and realized it was a bit too delicate to use ona hard veggie like a carrot, I decided to steam the vegetables briefly to make them more tender and then pass them through the device. It worked:
So here’s how this cool little tool is made. There’s a square of wood about half an inch thick with a whole cut out of the center. On each side of the circle there are two staggered rows of nails. A guitar string has then been woven back and forth between the nails creating the criss-crossed rows that you see here:
It’s really quite ingenius in its simplicity and I’m glad to have welcomed it into my collection of odd & unique, but highly functional kitchen tools.
By the way, here’s how to make the puntarelle dressing:
Place the following in a small blender:
- About 1/2 cup olive oil
- About 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 small garlic clove
- 4 to 5 anchovy fillets
Blend until creamy, toss on your puntarelle and serve!