Busman’s holidays are common for chefs and often productive. Three years ago, while vacationing in Italy, Marc Vetri and his wife Megan “went nuts” over a celery and puntarella salad with anchovy dressing at a restaurant in Rome. Vetri decided that he had to duplicate it for Amis, one of his three restaurants in Philadelphia. Though it’s no longer on the menu, Vetri makes it at home for Megan every Sunday. “She can’t get enough of it,” Vetri says.
Puntarella, which means “little pointy thing,” is so named because of its long and slender, tapered leaves. A member of the chicory family of bitter greens, Puntarella is commonly found in late fall and winter in Lazio, the region in which Rome is located. Unfortunately, Vetri can only get it occasionally from a local farmer, so instead he often uses curly endive, which is also a member of the chicory family and, confusingly, sometimes called chicory. (frisée is a miniature version of curly endive with a milder flavor.) Curls of celery add a textural and visual contrast. Vetri added Italian parsley leaves to the original dish “for freshness.”
This salad is robust enough to stand up to a variety of roasted meats. (In Rome, Vetri had it with a whole roasted fish.) What makes it work so beautifully (and what seduced Vetri and his wife) is the anchovy dressing. It’s creamy and assertive, a perfect foil for the bitter greens. The dressing reminded me of bagna cauda, the luxurious “warm bath” for vegetables that is so popular in Piedmont.
Piedmont also happens to be the home of Araldica Gavi di Gavi “La Luciana” 2008, the wine Vetri and his sommelier Jeff Benjamin recommend for this dish. In fact, Gavi is often served with bagna cauda at the beginning of tasting menus at the restaurant. “Normally, you get a green apple quality with Gavi. But with the Araldica there is a sea salt brine that works with anchovy dressing, ” Vetri says. “Sometimes when you bring together food and wine with similar characteristics, it can be too much of a good thing. But here the two compliment each other.”
- 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 2 whole salted anchovies, rinsed and spines removed or 4 anchovy fillets
- 1 tomato from a can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes, cored and chopped
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ribs celery, cut into very thin strips 3 to 4 inches long
- 1/2 to 1 head puntarella or 2 small heads curly endive, trimmed, leaves separated and cut in thirds on a diagonal
- 1/2 to 1 cup Italian parsley leaves
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup thinly shaved (using a vegetable peeler) Parmesan
1)For the dressing, put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic and anchovies in a small pot over medium heat. Simmer until the anchovies break up, about a minute. Add the tomato and reduce the heat. Simmer gently 3 to 4 minutes until the tomato breaks down somewhat.
2)Let cool 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the garlic. Stir in the vinegar and remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil. Vigorously whisk the dressing with a wire whip or puree it with an immersion blender or in a small blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.
3)For the salad, refrigerate the celery in ice water until slightly curled, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain, pat dry and toss it with the endive and parsley in a mixing bowl.
4)Add about half of the dressing to the salad bowl and toss until mixed. Add more as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide equally among chilled plates and top with shaved Parmesan. Makes 6 to 8 servings.