Recipe: Buca chef Rob Gentile’s bittersweet puntarelle salad with crispy fried smelts

Recipe: Buca chef Rob Gentile’s bittersweet puntarelle salad with crispy fried smelts

Toronto Life Cookbook 2012 Recipe: Puntarelle Salad

By Rob Gentile

PREP TIME: 25 minutes
COOK TIME: 2 minutes
Serves 2 to 4


2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 small garlic clove
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt and pepper


3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
Pinch of salt


1 head puntarelle or ½ head chicory or escarole greens
2 duck egg yolks
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
2–3 tbsp canola oil
6 smelts or 12 white anchovies
1 tbsp all-purpose flour for dusting
Pinch of store-bought citrus salt (optional)

1. Pulse pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender until pesto has a smooth but slightly textured consistency. Set aside. If you’re making the pesto ahead of time, it will keep for up to 2 days covered and refrigerated.

2. Pour vinegar and lemon juice into a small bowl and whisk in oil slowly. Add salt to taste. If making ahead, dressing will keep for 1 day covered and refrigerated.

3. Just before serving, gently julienne puntarelle. Toss in a medium bowl with 3 tbsp pesto and 2 tbsp pine nuts. Drizzle with ⅓ cup dressing. Toss to mix. Add more dressing to taste. Divide salad into 2 to 4 bowls. Make a small well in the top of each and top with a raw duck yolk. Garnish with leftover pine nuts.

4. Coat a small frying pan with oil and set over medium-high heat. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Coat smelts or anchovies with flour. Cook for about 1 minute per side until fish is golden.

5. Toss each salad with fish. Taste and add more pesto or dressing, if you like. Serve immediately.

Toronto Life Cookbook 2012 Recipe: Puntarelle Salad
If you can’t get your hands on puntarelle, chicory or escarole greens make great substitutions.

Toronto Life Cookbook 2012 Recipe: Puntarelle SaladROB GENTILE

At Buca, his King West osteria, Rob Gentile’s dishes manage to be both innovative and authentic. His menus feature riffs on Italian classics—panna cotta prepared with buffalo mozzarella, pizzas and pastas smothered in duck egg yolks instead of tomato sauce and fritti made from lambs’ brains and pigs’ ears. Gentile is as adept with vegetables as he is with carbs and meat. His favourite is puntarelle, a versatile, bittersweet green whose only catch is that it’s hyper-seasonal—available only from September until the first frost. Which is why when you get some, you’ll want to make the most of it. This dish is an elevated version of one you might find on many Roman tables in late fall, with smelts swapped out for the usual anchovies and a rich, golden duck egg yolk binding the salad together.

Recipes developed by Victoria Walsh. Recipe photography by Ryan Szulc. Portrait photography by Raina and Wilson. Illustrations by Aleksandar Janicijevic. Interviews by Denise Balkissoon, Ariel Brewster, Andrew D’Cruz, Jennifer Goldberg, Matthew Hague, Claire Hastings, Bronwen Jervis and Simone Olivero.