If you love the sharp flavors of arugula and radicchio, you’ll adore puntarelle chicory. Also known as Catalogna chicory, puntarelle (Cichorium intybus) is a member of the chicory family popular in Italy. It is not commonly grown in North America, but if you enjoy growing chicory then its unique hearty greens are well worth your time. Read on to find out how to incorporate puntarelle into your home garden.
Quick Puntarelle Chicory Facts:
- Botanical name: Cichorium intybus
- Height: 8-12 inches (20-30cm)
- Spread: 5-7 inches (12-18cm)
- Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil requirements: Fertile, moist but well-draining
- Hardiness zones: USDA 3-11
- When to plant: Spring
What is Puntarelle Chicory?
Puntarelle has been selectively bred from wild chicory, and is related to endive and escarole as well as radicchio. Puntarelle chicory has serrated leaves, similar in appearance to dandelion foliage, that grow out from the base of the plant. These leaves are surrounded by long, hollow, light green or white shoots, which develop from inside the plant in winter.
Also referred to as asparagus chicory or Cichorium asparago, the leaves are edible but incredibly bitter. They’re best harvested while young or cooked to reduce their bitter flavor. The highlights of the plant are the hollow bolting stems and the crisp tender heart, with its unique flavor and a texture reminiscent of celery root.
Puntarelle Chicory Care
Puntarelle and other chicories are commonly grown in Europe. Why aren’t they more popular here? Well, for one thing, you need to force the chicory plants, rather like the pale Witloof chicory or Belgian endive. Also, this cool weather crop requires specific care. That said, knowing how to grow puntarelle successfully is relatively easy if you follow these essentials.
You should plant puntarelle chicory in full sun. Give these plants at least six hours of exposure in cooler climates, and a few hours of partial shade per day in warm regions.
Puntarelle chicory is a cool season crop. Extremes of temperature result in wilting or stunted growth. The ideal temperature for growing this chicory is 60°F (15°C) but it will grow down to 40°F (5°C).
This chicory likes consistently moist soil that is well-draining. Water the crop regularly for the crunchiest hearts and juiciest shoots.
If you have prepared your sowing site by amending the soil, puntarelle doesn’t need supplemental fertilizer. If you haven’t, add a little balanced fertilizer before sowing. Crops grown for greens need sufficient nitrogen, as well as phosphorus and potassium.
Soil & Compost
Puntarelle thrives in rich, moist soil with adequate drainage. Prior to planting, add a little well-aged manure or compost. You’ll find testing the soil helps before planting. The pH should be 6.0-6.5.
Growing Puntarelle from Seed
The most effective way of growing puntarelle is from seed. Puntarelle chicory seeds can be sown directly into the garden or started early indoors for later transplanting. Germination occurs in two-15 days. Seeds can be directly sown outdoors or started inside. Sow seeds ¼ inch (5mm) deep. Thin the seedlings or transplant to 12-18 inches (30-45cm) apart, in rows 12-18 inches (30-45cm) apart.
Sow your puntarelle chicory seeds after the first frost date for your area. You can sow in mid-summer for a fall crop. Soil temperatures should be kept consistently between 50-72°F (10-22°C).
As with many varieties of chicory, you can force puntarelle to produce tender heads and shoots. In Italy, the plants are grown in the fall and dug up at the beginning of winter. Specially prepared roots are then replanted to ‘force’ blanched shoots and heads.
To replicate this, trim the leaves and stems from the core and roots of plants grown in the fall. Replant in boxes or other sheltering structures to keep the crops in the dark. While the plant is covered, it produces new shoots that are pale and delicate. These forced shoots are the much sought-after result.
Problems, Pests & Diseases
There aren’t too many problems with chicory plants, but aphids are known to infest puntarelle. Use a stream of water to blast the aphids from the plant. Heavy rains can cause molds and rots if the crop isn’t grown under cover. Growing the plants under cloches can help. Calcium deficiency can result in tip burn, as can too much fertilizing. Add lime to the soil where necessary, and don’t over-fertilize.
How and When to Harvest
If you are harvesting puntarelle leaves, you can do this as you would for any cut-and-come-again crop. Remember to harvest while leaves are young and tender. To harvest the shoots at their best, wait until after the flowering stalk is thick. You need to soak the shoots in water for an hour after harvesting.
Depending upon when the crop was sown, you can harvest chicory plants in the spring, summer or fall. You have a few options in determining exactly when to harvest puntarelle. If harvesting for the young leaves, you can begin as soon as 24 days from sprouting. If you’d rather harvest the head, harvest time is around 75-80 days from planting.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Way to Eat Puntarelle Chicory?
After being sliced and placed in water, puntarelle shoots are traditionally eaten tossed with a vinagrette. Anchovy vinaigrette is a popular choice. You can also eat the very young leaves as a cold salad, much like arugula. Puntarelle chicory works well with other strongly flavored ingredients, such as anchovy or feta, brined olives or garlic. Olive oil and lemon help to tone it down a notch.
How Does Puntarelle Chicory Taste?
Puntarelle’s flavor is complex. Its peppery leaves are reminiscent of arugula, while the stalks have a mild fennel flavor. At its core, you’ll detect a cross between chicory and endive, with a dash of dandelion.