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Salads, roasting and grilling ideas for puntarelle, now in season

Salads, roasting and grilling ideas for puntarelle, now in season
Puntarelle on display at the Garden of ... stand at the Santa Monica farmers market. (Noelle Carter / Los Angeles Times)

What's in season: Maybe you’ve seen large heads of puntarelle at the market without quite knowing what to make of them. At first, the football-sized vegetable kind of looks like Tim Burton grafted a bunch of dandelion leaves onto a massive head of bok choy. It’s actually an Italian member of the chicory family, which also includes endive, radicchio and escarole. Once a rarity even at farmers markets, you can find mounds of puntarelle at an increasing number of stands now through early spring.

What to cook: If using the puntarelle raw, soak the greens first to get rid of some of the bitter flavor. Separate the inner stalks, cutting them into strips and soaking them in ice water for an hour or so until the pieces curl before draining and adding to a salad — the stalks are classically used in a Roman style salad lightly dressed with an anchovy vinaigrette. Or try cooking the greens, tossing the inner stalks with oil before roasting or grilling.

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What's on the horizon: Mounds of strawberries are beginning to show up at stands, and varieties including Seascape and Gaviotas will continue to improve, with more pronounced flavor and increased sweetness, as the season peaks over the next few weeks.

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