I distinctly remember the day I first learned that dandelion greens were edible. I was no more than six or seven, rooting around in the back yard with a friend, when she plucked a tender lion-toothed green and started chewing.
I was horrified; not only did she refuse to spit it out, but she went on to inform me that her family ate dandelions for dinner all the time. In the 23 years I have been alive, this has been my only introduction. Needless to say, my taste for the wild weeds never developed.
The other morning, however, I noticed a bundle of dandelion greens at the local grocer. Local, in season! the sign below them read. Having searched for months for a local green, I understood that they deserved at least my consideration. I hemmed and hawed, wandering through the rest of the aisles in search of local produce until finally I arrived back at the dandelion stand with an empty basket.
At home, I called my mother. “Do you know anyone who eats dandelion greens?” I asked. She quickly informed me that my cousin Bob, a doctor who tends to his backyard Middlebury, Vermont garden with the tenacity of a full-time farmer, is a connoisseur of the greens. “They’re Italian,” she tells me, “a family tradition from his side.”
I called the dandelion tamer to learn more. He informed me that he does indeed enjoy the greens all spring and summer long, and even went so far as to refer to them as a garden delight. “I started eating them when I was a kid,” he explained. “Dandelion greens are part of Italian cuisine. My mother bought them all the time from the local grocery stores in Brooklyn.”
Apparently the domesticated variety is sweeter than the wild, and can be harvested every 7-10 days by cutting the leaves when they are between 4 and 6 inches long. “The plants winter over,” he said, “so they are an early harvest—April or May.” Once flowers start to develop, the greens begin to lose their taste.
Our conversation gave me courage. I pulled out the sauté pan and turned on the gas. According to Bob, the best way to eat the greens is to sauté them with garlic and olive oil until they are soft but still al-dente. I followed his advice, substituting local butter for olive oil and throwing in a few tiny bulbs of spring garlic.
True to his description, Bob’s recipe was delicious. I ate it alongside a cut of line-caught cod, a feast that disappears within minutes. I was converted.
So changed, in fact that I decided to go in search of the wild greens. Like my childhood friend, I found them right there in the backyard. A quick nibble confirmed that they are indeed bitterer than their domesticated cousin, more akin to an endive than an arugula. Nevertheless, I forged ahead into the kitchen. I rinsed and dried the greens, and arranged them in a salad bowl with a sprinkling of pea greens from the Saturday farmers' market. I used the remains of a jar of last season’s strawberry jam to stir up a vinaigrette and topped the salad with a crumbled rosemary Hannahbell thimble.
I remembered Bob’s words as I took my first bite. “Connoisseur of the plant I am not,” he had stated decidedly. “Enjoyable recipient of Italian family custom, I am.”
As now, am I.
Dandelion & pea green salad with soft rosemary cheese and strawberry vinaigrette
Rinse and dry 1/2 cup fresh wild dandelion greens and 1/2 cup pea greens. Top with a crumbled Hannahbell rosemary thimble and strawberry vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon strawberry jam
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar (such as apple cider)
1/4 teaspoon salt