Marisa Renwald: Delicious dandelion greens have spicy bite
April 16, 2012 2:54PM
Updated: May 19, 2012 8:05AM
When the warmer temperatures start luring out the first of spring’s edibles, they also summon the first of spring’s invaders, who often pop up in much more aggressive quantities.
In a field of lush emerald, they stick out in bold yellow blossoms, dotting our lawns like lemon candy buttons on a sheet of paper tape. To us, they are irritating, ugly and a symbol of poor upkeep. Quite simply, they’re weeds. But to others (the tiny critters that nibble them down to little buds), they’re a delicacy.
My 7-inch Russian tortoise can spot a dandelion from 30 feet away. She rushes to it and chomps on its leaves, its stem and even the flower until finally, a mid-day nap takes over and she nods off with little golden fuzzies still stuffed in her mouth. We can thank tortoises and other little creatures for keeping our yards dandelion-free in a rather organic way. But they’re also onto something. Dandelion greens are delicious, and we spend agonizing hours tugging on them just to let them rot in a compost heap, when instead, we should be taking a hint from our small friends.
Like escarole or chicory, dandelion greens have a certain spicy bite to them. They’re perfect in spring or summer salads when their tartness is mellowed out with a sweet or rich dressing. What grows in the front yard is actually more bitter than what’s sold in the grocery store, an Italian variety. However, it’s still completely edible and is the preferred pick by some. The milder variety is sold in seed packets and can be planted right in your garden — giving you the convenience to prepare Rome’s legendary cicoria recipes from April to the first frost.
If you are cooking with the greens straight from the garden, try a recipe like this one that takes the bite out. Wilted dandelion greens with a bacon vinaigrette add the right amount of sweetness and savoriness to this otherwise peppery taste. From garden to plate, it takes less than 20 minutes to unfold the flavor of April’s unsung green. Perfect alongside a soup on a cooler spring evening or paired up with a freshly baked crusty bread, this dandelion salad will complement almost any comfort food of the season.
It doesn’t hurt to substitute the dandelion greens from the grocery store either, if eating a weed from the front or back yard sounds like too much of an unsavory concept. If that’s the case, leave the dandelions for the pet tortoises and the other friendly garden visitors.
WILTED DANDELION GREENS WITH BACON VINAIGRETTE
2-3 cups dandelion greens plus stems, washed and dried
1/2 cup olive oil
8 ounces thickly sliced bacon, diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 medium-sized shallot chopped finely
2 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a large pan over medium heat, cook bacon until most of the fat is rendered. If there is a lot of fat, drain half of it. Add olive oil, shallot and sugar to remaining fat and bacon in pan. Cook until shallot is soft. Stir in vinegar. Tear greens in half and add to pan. Turn heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until greens just barely begin to wilt. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve.
Source: Marisa Renwald