Last week, we cooked with ramps acquired at a supermarket, of all places. That same trip yielded fresh dandelion greens. While long a staple of farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurant menus, their recentish appearance in mainstream grocery store produce departments surprises me a little. It also impresses me. Supermarkets are increasingly getting the way we eat – or at least aspire to.
I have to admit, though, seeing dandelion greens in the produce department makes me smile, too. Arguably one of the most successful self-propagating plants on the planet, dandelions are the stubborn enemy of gardeners everywhere. In fact, a healthy crop is pushing its way through construction debris in our backyard now.
But for far longer than we’ve been battling them, we’ve been eating them. Throughout most of recorded history, in fact. The entire plant is edible, from the flower petals to the leaves, right down to the tap roots. We’ve also been using dandelions medicinally just as long. The modern Latin name, Taraxacum officinale, actually refers to the plant’s use as a healing herb.
The leaves, our focus here, are rich in nutrients, especially vitamins A, C and K, as well as fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins. USDA has named dandelion greens as one of the top four green vegetables for nutrition.
When cooked, dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter flavor. When using them raw, selecting smaller, younger leaves and blanching them tames the bitterness much as cooking does.
Here’s the delicious weeknight dinner Marion made with our bunch of dandelion greens.
Capellini with Dandelion Greens, Prosciutto and Chicken
Serves 3 generously
6 ounces boneless chicken breast, sliced into small pieces
buckwheat flour for dredging the chicken (see Kitchen Notes for substitutes)
1 bunch dandelion greens
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves minced garlic (about 1 tablespoon)
4 ounces prosciutto, sliced into small pieces
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly grated Parmesan
10 ounces capellini
1. Dredge the chicken pieces in buckwheat flour and set aside. Start a pot of water for the pasta. Rinse and dry the dandelion greens. Remove and discard any stiff stems.
2. Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a big heavy-bottomed nonstick sauté pan. Sauté the garlic until it just starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.
3. Sauté the prosciutto until it just starts to brown a bit – remove and reserve.
4. Add the chicken to the pan and turn the heat up a little higher. Toss to coat with oil and sauté quickly until it starts to turn golden and is cooked through, about three minutes or so. Remove from pan.
5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Set aside.
6. Add the dandelion greens to the hot pan and stir fry, coating with oil, about 90 seconds – it will very quickly and dramatically start to shrink and darken. Add the chicken, prosciutto and garlic into the pan, toss, salt lightly and ladle a little cooking water over all just to coat and liquefy. Add the pasta to the pan and toss and gently stir everything. If need be, add a little more pasta water, then squeeze lemon juice over everything and toss again. Plate, grate a little Parmesan on top if you wish and serve. Easy.
Buckwheat flour? The robust flavor of this flour stands up to the bitterness of the dandelion greens nicely. But if you don’t have it on hand, feel free to use regular flour, rice flour or no flour at all.
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