Dandelions = Delicious
Here we go again; it never fails. On the news just yesterday morning – “asparagus is the first vegetable of spring.”
NO! dammit. Dandelions are the first vegetable of spring, or rather they are the first green vegetable. Parsnips that have overwintered (” spring dugs”) are even earlier, but by spring one has had enough roots for a while no matter how sweet they may be.
What dandelions are: delicious. Tender and fresh-tasting, with a pleasantly bitter endive edge and an earthy greenness that has no analogy. They’re low in calories, high in vitamin A , lutein and beta-carotene – look out carrots, you’ve got competition – and absolutely free.
What dandelions are not: instant. On account of the picking and cleaning. But picking is pleasant, a good chance to get outside, and a great activity to share with kids; anybody over about 3 knows what a dandelion looks like. And cleaning goes fairly quickly if you use the greens washing trick that works for anything wrinkled and sandy.
Cooking takes about 5 minutes, so once you’ve got cleaned greens you’ve got fast food.
Greens must be gathered before the flower bud starts pushing up or they will be tough and unpleasantly bitter. Greens from shady places (left) are usually wider, flatter, and milder than greens grown in full sun (right)
Mediterranean Dandelions with olive oil, garlic and lemon.
Fine hot or cold as a vegetable dish, easily expanded into Dandelions with Pasta and Prosciutto, a one-dish supper for spring. Measurements are given mostly for the form of the thing. Please for the love of heaven don’t bother to follow them to the letter.
For 4 servings:
a basketball-sized heap of cleaned dandelion greens, well drained but not dried:
¼ cup olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice; about half a lemon if it’s a decent lemon
salt to taste
Heat the oil in a wide sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sizzle until pale gold. Add greens, standing back to avoid the spatter when water hits the hot oil. Stir, cover, turn heat to medium low. Cook about a minute, stir again, recover and cook 2 or 3 minutes more. As soon as they’re all wilted, they’re done.
Dandelions with Pasta and Prosciutto
For 4 servings:
6 ounces thick pasta ( about 2 ½ cups dry)
1/3 cup olive oil
4 or 5 large cloves garlic
about 2/3 cup prosciutto, cut into small dice. *
¼ cup currants
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 batch cleaned dandelions ( see above)
Hard grating cheese to accompany **
Get the pasta cooking. When it’s about half done, heat the oil in a wide skillet, sizzle the garlic and prosciutto dice until both start to brown on the edges. Stir in the currants, cover and turn off the heat.
When the pasta is barely cooked, stir the dandelions into the pasta pot. They will wilt instantly. Drain at once and return to the pot. Stir in the prosciutto mixture , taste, add salt if necessary and serve garnished with lemon wedges. Pass the cheese and a grater at the table.
* We use “prosciutto ends,” the bit at the tip that’s too small to slice neatly, chunks our local market obligingly sells at a bargain price. Failing that, start with a single thick slab roughly 1/3 inch thick or substitute some other strong-flavored ham. It won’t taste the same, but it won’t taste bad. Or switch gears completely and use toasted pine nuts instead of the meat.
** last time I made this we used Magic Mountain, a sheep cheese from Woodcock Farm, in Vermont. Parmesan is fine, but why not experiment with alternatives made closer to home? The American Cheese Society has accomplished members in almost every state.