What's in Season: A Dandy Green

If the dandelion were a fairy tale, it would be Beauty and the Beast. Specifically, the Beast. Yes, this object of suburban derision, the bane of backyard gardeners and scourge of the lawn-obsessed, is a culinary prince in disguise, waiting to be tamed and appreciated for what it is: delicious, nutritious,
and versatile.

So summon your inner Belle and start picking. The plant is at its edible peak right now, before it flowers. It’s the young leaves you want, mildly bitter like endive or chicory when raw, like spinach or broccoli rabe when cooked. Use them to enliven salads, sauté them with onion and garlic, or braise them with carrots for more sweetness. Digging will yield the weed’s taproot, which can be roasted or added to soups and stocks. Or wait a few weeks and your weed-revenge can be complete: toss the new yellow flowers into salads for color and tang, or flour and fry them for fritters. Yes, revenge is sweet—and so delectable.

Healthy, too. Dandelion leaves trump carrots in beta-carotene, and spinach in iron and calcium. Their herbal remedies are legion, aiding digestion, kidney, and liver function. And the plant’s milky sap treats stings, warts, and calluses—but that’s someone else’s column. In this one, we eat, and no one will induce a dandelion appetite more than The Cookery’s (39 Chestnut St, Dobbs Ferry 914-305-2336) Dave DiBari. Bitter greens are a staple of Italy’s cucina povera, which he elevates a stratum or two in dishes like custardy dandelion green-and-goat-cheese sformato, or pan-roasted greens blanketed with breadcrumbs and scented with lemon oil. “Italian cooking calls for a bitter taste, like that of arugula and broccoli rabe,” he says. “Dandelion greens offer that bitter dimension, that peppery bite.”

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They also offer the epitome of local, organic, sustainable foodways. As we know too well, like sci-fi aliens—or teenagers (if there’s a difference)—the more you try to contain them, the stronger they grow. Fail to dig up a dandelion completely, and back up it sprouts. Well, at least dandelions you can throw into a pot.

Dandelion Green Sformato
Courtesy of Dave DiBari
(Serves 8)

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb dandelion greens
¾ cup ricotta cheese
(preferably sheep’s milk)
¾ cup heavy cream
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2 oz Grana Padano or Parmigiano-
Reggiano cheese, grated
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 300°F. Butter bottom and sides of eight, four-ounce ramekins. Trim and discard lower part of dandelion stems. Wash greens and dry well. In medium sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, and sauté garlic until pale golden. Add dandelion greens, season with salt and pepper. Add just enough water to cover greens and braise until tender. Drain greens, transfer to blender and purée, adding water, if necessary, to make a smooth purée. In electric mixer, cream the ricotta until smooth. Add heavy cream, eggs and egg yolk, Grana Padano, cayenne, and nutmeg. Fold in dandelion-green purée. Place ramekins in baking pan. Pour hot water into pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake about 20 minutes, until custards are set. Carefully remove ramekins from pan and let sit at least 20 minutes to set completely.

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