I’m seldom out ahead of the pack, but I did get fooled before April 1st. On the most recent podcast , to be exact, when Dean sidetracked my passionate defense of home cooking into a celebration of dandelions.
Well, okay. Not the best argument for home cooking. But a GREAT example of great food close to home. Dandelions are everywhere, first green of the season. They’re delicious (like endive, only more so) and almost obscenely good for you : tons of vitamin A, quantities of B complex, C, and D, plus iron, potassium, and zinc.
To say nothing of absolutely free,
BULLETIN: Just looked out at the feeder. The goldfinches are golden again, drab winter plumage all gone.
This is the way I learned to love them when I was a kid in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Italians have other ideas, which will be addressed another time.
For about 4 to 6 side dish servings or dinner for 2
A good sized heap – half a brown paper grocery bag full – of young dandelions ( see below) or other bitter greens, washed and coarsely chopped
½ pound bacon
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
3 or 4 tablespoons brown sugar
Several turns of the pepper mill
A bit of minced garlic is not authentic but is tasty
2 hardboiled eggs
1. Let the greens come to room temperature in a large, heatproof bowl. Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet over low heat until very crisp.
2. Set the bacon aside to drain and pour off all but about 1/3 cup of the bacon fat. Put the pan aside, off the heat. Crumble the bacon and slice the eggs thinly.
3. Add the vinegar, water, sugar , pepper (and garlic) to the skillet and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When sugar is dissolved, bring dressing to a rolling boil and pour it over the greens. Toss thoroughly. Garnish with bacon and hard egg and serve.
(If the season is almost over and the greens are on the serious side, cook them briefly in the dressing … just until wilted.)
To Harvest and Clean Dandelions:
Size doesn’t matter – the older the root, the larger the rosette of leaves – but youth is crucial: go for plants with small, tight flowerbuds buried in the center. Once buds start swelling, greens turn bitter and tough.
Cut the rosette at ground level. Discard any discolored leaves and trim off the dirt-covered base before dropping the rest in your bag or basket.
Separate leaves and chop coarsely, then dump in a large bowl of cool water. Swish ’em around, then lift into a colander. Discard sandy water in bowl. Repeat until no more sand comes out. It almost always takes 3 passes and often takes more .
(Taste a leaf, bearing in mind that the dressing will gentle them quite a bit. If they still seem mindbendingly bitter, let them soak in cool water for an hour or two). Drain so they’re not sopping wet but don’t worry about drying them.