Recipe: Punterelle with Seared Shrimp and Anchovy Croutons
I have in my anxious cook’s hands a beautiful head of punterelle, the esteemed winter green of Rome, available there, and now here, from November to February. It’s a type of chicory most often served uncooked and dressed with anchovy, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil. I was, luckily, in Rome the first time I tasted it, and it came close to blowing my mind. For starters I couldn’t believe I was eating a green I’d never seen before, all curls and spikes, and in addition it was tossed with anchovy, a longtime top-ten flavor for me. The salad was an elegant mix of salt and bitter. Simple but commanding.
In Rome punterelle is served as a first-course salad, but in my own kitchen I’ve elaborated on the classic, making it more of a meal, working in shrimp and using anchovies to flavor croutons. The result is a true Mediterranean diet delight, combining a little seafood, a handful of greens, herbs, and garlic to produce big flavor. Its wonderful taste and health benefits recall for me the origin of the word diet. It comes from the Greek diaita, meaning way of living, and has nothing in common with the punitive tone the word has taken on today. The Greeks were talking about the normal flow of things, work, sleep, eating, social life, art, environment. I wish my life could be less anxious. There are some things I don’t have much control over, such as the normal flow of my workload, feast or famine for the most part, but I’m definitely the master of my kitchen. I cook what I love.
Punterelle does needs a little prep, but it’s not a huge deal. You want it to go all curly. In Rome I’ve seen it already cut and curled in big bins in open-air markets. No such luck here. It’s a little hard to find around New York town. Check out Italian groceries and higher-end shops. I also find it at Greenmarkets. To achieve the punterelle do, you’ll need to slice the shoots and tender stalks horizontally down the middle, chop them into manageable pieces, and then plunge them into ice water. Then watch them curl.
Punterelle with Seared Shrimp and Anchovy Croutons
1 medium bunch punterelle, trimmed (if you can’t find punterelle, use frisée lettuce or curly chicory)
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
A few dill sprigs, lightly chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus the grated zest from the entire lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry bread cubes, made from day-old Italian bread
4 oil-packed anchovies, minced
6 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined but with the tail left on
Cut all the tender punterelle shoots horizontally through the middle and then into approximately 3-inch pieces. Include any small buds you find. Place them all in a bowl of ice water, and let them sit for about a half hour. Most of them should start to curl. Now take them from the water, and spin dry.
Place the punterelle, the shallot, and the dill in a medium salad bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice with half of the minced anchovy, about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic clove, and some black pepper, pressing on the garlic to release its flavor.
In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and the remaining anchovy and a few turns of black pepper, and sauté until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle the lemon zest on the shrimp, and season with salt and pepper. Set up another skillet over high heat, adding a thin film of olive oil. When hot, add the shrimp, and sauté quickly, just until tender, about 2 minutes.
Dress the salad with the vinaigrette, and divide it onto two plates. Place three shrimp around each salad, and scatter the croutons on top.