Take That, You Locavores!

That was the sign in my local butcher shop in Cortona when I passed by a couple of days ago. The hand lettering advertises “Vitella Chianina”—vitella being something like what we would call baby beef, i.e., not a full-grown steer but still something much more imposing than a veal calf:

“From the mountains,” it says, “you can’t get more local than that!”

Chianina is the acclaimed local beef (native to our Val di Chiana, hence it’s name) from animals that were once the favored beasts of burden on Tuscan farms, big, calm, patient, you could almost say studious, white creatures with long horns, impressive musculature and a pedigree, locals say, that goes back to the Etruscans who once peopled this terrain. It’s a favorite for bistecca fiorentina, or as it’s called around here just plain fiorentina, which I’m told by butchers is the equivalent of a Porterhouse. But it also makes a splendid hamburger, especially when dressed with a dribble of fine Tuscan olive oil and a sprinkle of Sicilian sea salt–I’ll take it over ketchup any day.

Other local treats on the market at this time of the year include puntarelle which, if you know at all, you will know as a Roman delicacy, the leaves of catalogna chicory stripped down to the white ribs which curl into a salad that’s tantalizingly difficult to eat—there’s always a curl or two protruding from the corner of even the most delicately pursed lips. There’s not much point to that, as far as I’m concerned.  I like to serve the whole thing —why toss out perfectly good salad greens—but with the same deliciously garlicky anchovy dressing that Roman cooks use on the stripped ribs.

Puntarelle (cicoria catalogna)

Puntarelle (cicoria catalogna)

But I’ve run out of space and time. And I do want to mention the dressing for puntarelle because it’s dead easy: Just make your usual salad dressing, one part wine vinegar or lemon juice to three parts fine extra-virgin olive oil, but add to it 4 or 5 cloves of fresh garlic and half a dozen oil-packed anchovy fillets, both chopped fine. You can put the whole thing in a food processor and whiz it briefly to combine but don’t overdo it–you want a slightly grainy texture to the dressing. And of course you should feel free to adjust, adding more garlic or fewer anchovy fillets as your palate tells you. A healthy sprinkling of ground black pepper doesn’t detract either.

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  • Reply leslie land March 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    So glad to see the plug for Catalogna/punterelle; not only delicious but also very easy to grow. It’s happy in Maine, happy in the Hudson Valley, and I discovered last fall it’s also happy in suspended animation! Pulled the last plants in early November, trimmed the roots without cutting all off and just stuck them in a couple of inches of water in a bucket on the unheated side porch. Stayed good until early February (even grew a little), and then I got too smart for myself. Replanted what was left in soil; put the pots in the dark basement with visions of delicate blanched leaves and stems…and then of course forgot all about them. Went down the other day to find almost all of them dried up and dead. Two, however, were still living. Ceremonial welcome-spring tidbit coming up! With a touch of anchovy. Wish we could be sharing it with you.

  • Reply nancyharmonjenkins March 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    This came from Sam Hayward, chef-ower of Portland’s Fore Street restaurant, in an email to me on another site. I asked him for permission to post it because it’s an interesting addition to Leslie Land’s earlier comment:

    I loved your blog entry on Cortona’s local beef, but even more the comments on
    puntarelle/catalogna. Incidentally, that’s the same plant that we begin to see
    in markets this time of year, sold as “dandelion greens”. Of course that’s a
    marketing misnomer and deliberately misleading, but it’s now so common for
    catalogna that there’s no persuading the poor produce stocker at Whole Foods
    that he needs to change the store signage. I love it regardless. Makes my liver
    feel good. I don’t strip the greens off either.

    It sometimes shows up at Fore Street from commercial sources, and my staff
    innocently tries to call it dandelions on the menu, not bothering to question
    the label on the crate. (I correct them.)
    Frank has grown it for me off and on since the early ‘eighties. I think Leslie
    is right that it does seem to love Maine. From what I can glean from Cornucopia
    II, dandelions and chicories are related, but no closer than at the Tribe level
    (Cichoriae) within the family Asteraceae.

  • Reply CardamomKitchen March 31, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks Nancy. I’ve been looking for a dressing with anchovies.

    Enjoy Italy! I have never met a traveller that didn’t LOVE it!.


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