April 30, 2007 at 12:00AM
by Leslie Land
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 an even earlier gift from the ground, 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 analogue. They are low in calories, high in vitamin A , lutein and beta-carotene. Look out carrots, you have competition. And they are absolutely free. What dandelions are not: instant. On account of the picking and cleaning. But picking is fun, 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
. Cooking takes about 5 minutes, so once you have cleaned greens you have 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 (above, left) are usually wider, flatter, and milder than greens grown in full sun (above, 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, do not 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 is a decent lemon salt to taste Heat the oil in a wide saute 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 are all wilted, they are 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) lemon wedges Hard grating cheese to accompany** Get the pasta cooking. When it is 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 is 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 will not taste the same, but it will not 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.
Writer Leslie Land blogs about gardening, food and design at Leslieland.com.