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Puntarelle: Properties and Cultivation Techniques

Puntarelle, a particular variety of chicory whose cultivation is widespread in the central and southern regions of Italy. Let's see how to cultivate them.

by BioGrow

Today we want to talk to you about puntarelle chicory a particular variety of chicory, whose cultivation is widespread in the central-southern regions. Let’s understand, with the help of pictures, what vegetable we are talking about, as well as analyze its common names, properties, and organic cultivation techniques.

Its unique flavor and appearance make it stand out, and it thrives especially between late summer and early winter. In short, it’s a vegetable that deserves the attention of vegetable lovers.

The variety of puntarelle chicory

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - open plant

Open plant

Regarding puntarelle, let’s first focus on the correct terminology to identify this species. It is a variety of chicory, Cichorium intybus, belonging to the Asteraceae family. Chicories include groups of plants with very different characteristics, often linked to geographical distribution. For this reason, in some areas of Italy, puntarelle is known, for example, as “cicoria catalogna.” Another common term is “cicoria asparago.”
The main characteristic that distinguishes puntarelle from other chicory varieties lies in the particular conformation of the plant. At the center of the green, deeply fringed leaves, it forms a voluminous and very compact head, composed of large and tender shoots, namely the puntarelle.

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - sprouts

Sprouts

Regarding “catalogna” from our cultivation experience, we refer to another variety of chicory, which differs from puntarelle precisely in the absence of the so-called “cicciottelli” i.e., the shoots we just saw. As seen in the photo below, the leaves of this variety are different, being wavy and smooth.

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - catalogna chicory

Catalogna chicory

Main varieties

The cultivation and consumption of puntarelle are traditionally widespread in the regions of central and southern Italy, particularly in Lazio and Puglia, where the best-known varieties of puntarelle chicory come from.
Specifically, we refer to the variety “puntarella di Gaeta”, characterized by longer and tapered shoots, and the variety “puntarella di Galatina”, characterized by larger and more compact inner shoots.
This information will help you choose the varieties you decide to purchase and cultivate.

arieties of puntarelle chicory - Gaeta puntarelle chicory

Gaeta puntarelle chicory

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - Galatina puntarelle chicory

Galatina puntarelle chicory

Nutritional Properties and Consumption

Puntarelle are characterized by a distinctive and pleasant bitter taste, setting them apart from many other leafy vegetables, like lettuce, which has a fairly neutral taste. They are composed mostly of water, so they have a very low caloric content, but they are rich in vitamins and minerals. Notably, they contain about 75 mg of calcium per 100 grams, 34 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams, and 0.7 mg of iron per 100 grams.
The main vitamins in puntarelle are those belonging to groups A, B, and C. These nutritional values, of course, refer to raw consumption, which many recommend to preserve their beneficial properties for the body. This vegetable has purifying and detoxifying properties for the body. The bitter substances it contains aid digestion and stimulate blood circulation, favoring fat elimination from the intestine. Hence, it is preferable to consume this vegetable raw as a salad, especially the tender shoots, which are delicious.

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - raw salad of puntarelle sprouts

Raw salad of puntarelle sprouts

Organic Cultivation of Puntarelle

Now, let’s talk about the cultivation of puntarelle.
As mentioned before, these vegetables are a variety of chicory or, in any case, belong to the same family. They are a sort of cultivated chicory.
Wild chicory, being a wild species, has inherent resistance characteristics that it has passed on to its relatives, puntarelle or catalogna.
These are very resilient plants that adapt well to different cultivation conditions and provide multiple harvests per plant, which can be quite satisfying.

Cultivation Periods

The recommended periods for cultivating puntarelle are spring and autumn. They may suffer from excessive heat during the summer months, causing them to mature rapidly and become tough inside (or “bolt”, as it’s called in our region).
On the other hand, in winter months, frost can harm the inner shoots, causing them to rot and become less appealing.
For spring cultivation, direct seeding of puntarelle should be done in February/March, while for autumn cultivation, it should be done in July/August. It takes at least 30 days to form seedlings in a seedbed ready for transplantation. So, if you haven’t sown them during the specified periods, but you have a reliable nursery (mindful of organic practices and against pesticides), you can purchase seedlings and transplant them into the garden in April/May for spring and September/October for autumn.
From the time of transplantation, it takes about 45-60 days for puntarelle to reach full maturity and offer precious inner shoots. So, calculate the timing based on your climate and, of course, the layout of your garden.

Other Relevant Cultivation Aspects: Proper Spacing

The correct spacing for puntarelle cultivation is a crucial parameter to consider for this crop. The plants have a physiological need to open up to find air and make room for the shoots. Therefore, they should be cultivated at least 30-40 cm apart in rows, with 50 cm between rows.
In the picture, you can see how large a Galatina chicory puntarelle plant can become in an open field. Of course, you will need far fewer plants for your needs. Perhaps 5-6 plants will be enough to get to know and appreciate them.

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - cultivation of Galatina puntarelle

Cultivation of Galatina puntarelle

Irrigation and Mulching

Puntarelle have moderate water needs. They tolerate rain quite well and benefit from it greatly. Generally, they do not tolerate drought, as they have deep taproots. So, you must keep the soil consistently moist with regular irrigation. A good practice for this crop is mulching, which helps to keep the soil cool and moist while also limiting the growth of weeds.

Harvesting

Varieties of puntarelle chicory - whole plant

Whole plant

Puntarelle can be harvested in two ways: by extracting the entire plant from the ground and then removing the roots, or by cutting the central part containing the shoots at ground level.
In the first case, the whole plant is available for consumption, and the leaves, as we saw, can be easily cooked.
In the second case, you will have the heart of the puntarelle for consumption and the possibility of a second regrowth if the plant is allowed to grow freely.
The choice depends on your tastes and the cultivation requirements in your garden.

Pest and Disease Control for Puntarelle

The puntarelle chicory variety is highly adaptable and resistant. It is not prone to many pest attacks. For example, it is not favored by the cabbage moth or snails.
The major risk comes from black aphids, especially in spring. However, these can be easily controlled using nettle macerate, which is very effective for this crop.

Conclusions

We invite you to get to know and cultivate the puntarelle chicory variety. It is a fantastic vegetable that will bring great satisfaction to your table. In our opinion, it is an ideal side dish, especially for festive feasts. Its bitter taste cleanses the palate and leaves a pleasant sensation, making it a perfect accompaniment to a sweet dessert, accompanied perhaps by a good amaro, like nocino.

Further Reading

  • Chicory and Endive from Academia.edu: This resource discusses various types of chicory, including puntarelle. It provides information about the plant’s characteristics, cultivation, and uses.
  • Quality evaluation of cook-chilled chicory stems (Cichorium intybus L. Catalogna group) by conventional and sous vide cooking methods from Academia.edu: This study analyses the effects of different cooking methods on the quality of chicory stems, including those of the Catalogna group, which includes puntarelle.
  • Winter Vegetable Production from Oregon State University: This resource includes information about various winter vegetables, including Catalogna chicory or puntarelle. It provides information about their cultivation and uses.

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