The mother of my childhood best friend used to make salad from dandelion greens that grew in her yard. She is one of the most elegant, magical, beautiful women I have ever known. She read us all of the children’s classics in her beautiful English accent. She’s an actress and it’s probably partly her fault that I went into theater professionally. Anyway, I have this clear picture of her sitting in her the sunshine in her lovely garden munching on a dandelion green and informing her daughter and I that they were “utterly delicious”.
I got this recipe from my friend Kerthy who I met many years ago through my friend (and now husband) Chris. I thought that she was nice enough the first few times I met her, but when she served me this salad on a sunny day in her lovely garden in Brooklyn, I fell totally in love with her. I do not think that this salad is a friendship potion that would work on everyone, but it worked on me. I think that it would do the trick for any meat-eater who likes bitter greens.
Kerthy got the recipe from one of her favourite cookbooks, The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper which was also the inspiration for my Gluten-Free Plum-Ricotta Tart with Almonds. Kerthy added star anise to the recipe and I consider it a crucial element in the magic spell of this salad. If you do not have star anise add something else with a bit of sweet anise flavour such as fennel seeds, fresh fennel, anise seeds or a splash of Anise flavoured booze like Sambuca, Pastis or Pernod. I also like to use a vinegar with a bit of sweetness (to balance the bitterness of the greens) such as fig balsamic, but a wee bit of sugar added to the red wine vinegar works too.
You can leave the leaves of dandelion large and serve them barely wilted or you can chop them up and give them a toss in the hot pan to wilt them down a bit more. Either way is excellent. I like eating the big leaves with my fingers. It me feel like a rabbit, which is a good thing in my book, but some people prefer their food a little more tamed. The sauteed version would be great pizza topping. I also think that this recipe would work well with arugula and or radicchio instead of dandelion greens.
The flavours of this dish are very intense. I think that they are best served with something else that is starchy, mild and a bit sweet like Roasted Potato Salad with Garlic and Rosemary or Za’atar Roasted Potatoes and Fennel or Quinoa Salad with Fennel and Pomegranate. If you are an eater of dandelion greens and other wild edibles you should check out my sister’s recipe for Quinoa with Wild Plantain, Dandelion and Peppers.
WILTED DANDELION SALAD WITH CURED MEATS
- two bunches dandelion greens, washed, dried and chopped (if you wish)
- 2 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil
- 1 star anise (or a teaspoon of fennel or anise seeds, 1/2 of a small fennel bulb, sliced or a splash of anise liquor)
- 2 thin slices soppressata
- 2 thin slices pancetta
- 1 medium onion, sliced into rings
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar with a teaspoon of sugar (or fig balsamic with no sugar)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium flame. Saute the meats and the star anise (or fennel or anise seeds) until the meats just begin to colour.
- Add the onions (and fresh fennel if using) and stir until they are barely wilted.
- Turn the heat to low, add the garlic and cook for 1 or 2 minutes.
- Add the vinegar (and anise flavoured liquor if using) and cook it down for a few seconds.
- Pour the warm meats, onion and sauce over the dandelion greens or toss the greens for a few seconds in the pan to wilt them down.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve.