Ray Bradbury romanticized using dandelion petals for wine, but the greens are just as valuable. They’ve been popping up on menus everywhere, as the weed might do in your garden, and chefs agree that it’s largely due to their bitter flavor.
Yes, that’s a positive thing. Massimo Fabbri, executive chef at Ristorante Tosca in Washington, recalls scrunching his nose up at dandelion greens as a child, but palates evolve. He now considers the ingredient to be quite versatile.
“The bitterness can be overwhelming at first,” he said, “but if you play with it properly, you can combine a couple of good flavors with it.”
At Tosca, Fabbri sautes the greens with a little olive oil, spring garlic and a touch of lemon juice. He pairs them with lamb chops and yellow tomato puree, though an even more popular result might have been when he once served them as a special with a whole fried artichoke and burrata.
“You can pair every green well with vegetables,” Fabbri said. “Artichokes, because of their dullness, need a bite to go with them.”
Dandelions are a common ingredient in the Mediterranean, referred to as “baby chicory” in Italy. If Fabbri were to use them at home, he said, he’d serve them as a salad with red onions, strawberries and a lemon-Dijon mustard dressing. The acidity of the mustard balances the greens, a logic that extends to vinaigrettes of all kinds.
Esca, a New York restaurant that James Beard award-winning chef Dave Pasternack co-founded with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, offers a dandelion green salad on its lunch menu. Called Dente di Leone, the Italian translation of the ingredient, the appetizer combines “roadside” greens with a dandelion honey vinaigrette.
Pasternack is “always surprised” by the fiber-filled plant’s popularity, he said, though he is familiar with Italians’ “love affair” with its bitterness. (Americans, on the other hand, “don’t necessarily understand radicchio, puntarelle, dandelion.”)
The chef said he treats dandelion greens as he would Italian chicory, often tossing them with a Caesar dressing that includes anchovies. It’s a simple concoction, and the anchovies cut through the greens’ “in-your-face flavor.”
“I am an avid gardener, so I get a lot of dandelions in my garden,” Pasternack said. “My wife always says, ‘What are you putting them in the salad for?’ It’s free lettuce.”
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