In Rome, my favorite fall vegetable is always puntarella, a type of wild chicory particular to the region of Lazio and eagerly anticipated in Roman kitchens. There, it is served with an assertive dressing of anchovy, garlic and extra virgin olive oil—flavors that can stand up to its slightly bitter edge. It is hard to find this bit of greenery here in the United States, and as fall approaches and the first slightly chilly mass of air settles over my home in New York, I'm daydreaming about my favorite autumn Italian salad. The arrival of puntarelle in Rome is a signal to pull out the sweaters and move the sidewalk tables inside.
Over the years I've had to satisfy my year-round craving for puntarelle in salsa by matching other varieties of bitter greens with the same dressing. Curly chicory is visually similar, but has too much bitterness for my taste. Dandelion greens have the right amount of green color, but the older they are picked, the tougher they are to chew. In escarole, I finally found my ideal substitute mate for the delicious anchovy dressing that reminds me so much of Rome.
Gradually, I started experimenting with a few strategic additions to my ultimate escarole salad. I often used to whip up this salad as quick work lunch at Babbo, and one day a few toasted walnuts leftover from a batch of cookies found their way into my salad bowl. Not long after, I discovered that some firm, aged goat cheese grated into the mix united all these bitter components together perfectly with just the right amount of tangy richness.
The bitter edge of both the greens and the walnuts, the grassy burn of extra virgin olive oil, and the salty edge of anchovy may seem like too much flavor on one plate, but somehow it all works together quite harmoniously. I love that I can throw this substantial salad together any time of the year. It pairs really well with a mixed grill of sausages, lamb chops and steak. With a plate of ripe, juicy tomatoes and some roasted sweet corn, you've got the makings for a very sophisticated Labor Day barbecue under the stars.
Fresh escarole can be very sandy, so be sure to wash it in plenty of cold water carefully. Pat the leaves dry with paper towels or spin them in a salad spinner before cutting or tearing them into pieces. Be sure to use a firm aged goat cheese suitable for grating—this isn't the place for soft, fresh goat cheese.
- 1 medium head of fresh escarole
- 1 cup toasted walnut pieces, roughly chopped
- Anchovy-Lemon Dressing (recipe below)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ounces firm, aged goat cheese, grated
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 or 3 salted anchovies, rinsed, filleted and finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Freshly squeezed juice of 1 medium lemon
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Trim away the tough outer leaves of the escarole, pull apart the remaining leaves and thoroughly wash them in plenty of cold water, patting them dry with paper towels or spinning them in a salad spinner. Cut or tear the leaves into 1-1/2 inch pieces and place them in a large salad bowl with the walnuts. Pour over enough of the dressing to coat everything well, seasoning the salad with additional salt and pepper to taste. Add 3/4 of the grated goat cheese and toss well. Arrange on a platter, distributing the rest of the goat cheese over the top of the salad.
In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, anchovy, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Whisk in the olive oil. Adjust the flavor with additional salt and pepper as needed.