A distinctive, crisp, and very bitter green, puntarelle is a real sign that fall has arrived. This member of the chicory family is typically harvested in fall through the winter, although it’s widely eaten fresh, in salads. If you’re not quite ready to fully embrace the food of this chilly season yet, then a refreshing salad–with a unique, seasonal ingredient–is a great compromise.
I’ve been infatuated with chicories lately, a group that includes radicchio, Belgian endive and frisee. Whether ruffly, straggly or smooth, these greens (or reds, sometimes) add such a sharp complement to full-flavored courses, like grilled meats. Recently, I’ve been tossing them on the grill brushed with olive oil to serve alongside, just wilted in parts. But fresh, the hardy bitterness and crisp bite of chicories make a powerful juxtaposition, too. Paging a rich, robust-tasting protein to toss with them, please.
Welcome, smoked trout! What a pleasure you could join us. With a pungent, smoky flavor and a delicate texture, this could just work out great. We might like something a little crispy, though, like a crouton in addition. Or something a little on the sweet side, with a toasty edge. Let’s fry some leeks then.
leeks are scorched in hot oil until sweet and toasty
One, two, three, and this salad is pretty much complete. Because puntarelle is less commonly found, try making a salad like this with just about any member of the chicory family, or a combination of them. I was amazed to come across puntarelle for the first time last year at the Union Square Greenmarket, at precisely this time of year. Since then, I’ve seen it at a few small groceries in the city, as well as restaurant menus. The classic Roman preparation of puntarelle highlights their crispy, long stalks in a piquant salad with anchovies, garlic and fresh lemon in the dressing. You’ll still get an intensely fishy flavor from the smoked trout instead of anchovies here, and plenty of lemon is squeezed onto the salad along with drizzles of olive oil.
Lastly, this particular smoked trout in the photos is actually smoked rainbow trout, a specialty of one Greenmarket vendor, Max Creek Hatchery. This small, Upstate-based hatchery raises rainbow trout on natural feed for that beautiful, coral-pink color, and brings them ultra-fresh or smoked whole. Check it out if you’re nearby Union Square on Wednesdays. Or, of course, substitute with smoked trout near you, or perhaps smoked mackerel or bluefish.
It’s fall alright, but there’s plenty of seasonal highlights to catch as they come.
Puntarelle with Smoked Trout and Frizzled Leeks
(makes 2-3 servings)
1 bunch puntarelle, both stems and leaves
4-6 oz. smoked trout
1 small leek
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Trim any rough ends or roots from the puntarelle. Chop into sections, including the stems and greens, about 2″ in length. Submerge in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (this will rinse dirt as well as plump up the stems a bit more).
Separate the darker green top of the leek and discard (or reserve to make stock with). Slice the white and light green parts in uniform slices. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once oil is very hot, add the leeks and stir immediately. Continue stirring until the leeks are mostly golden-brown, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels. (The leeks might not look that crispy at first but will become more crisp as they dry.) Sprinkle them with a bit of salt and let cool slightly.
Drain and dry the chopped puntarelle well. Toss in a bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Break the smoked trout into chunks and scatter throughout. Toss in the fried leeks, and serve.
(for 2-3 servings)
1 bunch puntarelle: $4.00
4-6 oz. smoked trout (at $16/lb): $5.00
1 leek: $1.00
1/4 cup vegetable oil: $0.25
1/2 lemon: $0.20
2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.30
Three brownie points: It won’t fill you up, but this salad makes a very healthful starter, or light lunch to serve with hearty slices of bread. There’s the wealth of detoxifiers in the bitter green leaves. There’s also valuable omega-3 fatty acids in the smoked fish. More Vitamin C from the fresh lemon and heart-healthy added fats from the olive oil, and you’re getting a lot of nutritional power from one small side.
Eight maple leaves: This dish might seem a little exotic, but I was able to source both the puntarelle and smoked trout from local farms at the Greenmarket–and also the leek. Swapping in a slightly different smoked fish or bitter green, you can make it work locally this fall just about anywhere, too.