Cicoria, dandelion greens
A large pot of water for boiling dandelion greens
o To pick dandelions you have to be able to distinguish which vegetation growing wild in the woods or in one's own backyard are dandelions and which are not. This is quite easy to do as dandelions have a characteristic-shaped leaf. Dandelion greens do not need to be newly-grown for them to be edible.
o To make an omelet with dandelions one can pick older dandelions that have flowered -- of course the flower and its stem are removed, as are the roots. However, in Canada the older ones are only good until the end of May. After May the second crop of dandelions are too bitter to make a good dish.... Keep in mind that the dandelions shrink dramatically after they are cooked (12 cups uncooked, might be less than 1 cup, cooked).
o After the spring dandelions have been dug out and their roots cut off, remove any other type of vegetation that might be attached to it.
o Separate the leaves, one by one, making sure there are no flower stems or other types of vegetation (Do this prior to washing the dandelions, as everything is more visible at this time).
o Wash the dandelion leaves under running water over and over -- 4 or 5 times.
o Soak the dandelion leaves for 10 minutes or so.
o Re-wash the dandelion leaves.
o When one is completely sure the dandelion leaves are clean, drain well.
o Chop the dandelions.
o Bring a large pot of water to boil.
o Cook the dandelion greens for about 20 minutes.
o Drain. Squeeze out some of the excess water from the dandelions.
o Heat up olive oil.
o Stir fry the dandelions for a few minutes.
o Meanwhile beat eggs.
o Add beaten eggs to the dandelion mixture.
o Cook until eggs are cooked.
o Serve warm or at room temperature.
It seems my late aunt, Zia Teresa, DiTullia, often dug up the dandelions in her backyard and made use of them. My own mother never did, as she is not fond of dandelion greens. Actually, it's not just that she doesn't like dandelion greens, it seems to me that she has a strong prejudice against them as she considers them "poor people's food." Well, that's my interruption of the situation. According to my mother when she was growing up in Casacalenda very few people picked dandelion greens there for the simple reason that there weren't too many of them around. She claims that prior to World War II the land in and around Casacalenda was so arid and dry that even dandelions didn't grow well there. Now, I know she believes this to be true, but whether or not the facts bear it out, is hard to say. It's possible that the farmers living in and around Casacalenda that were stuck with the least arable land (The poorest of the poor no doubt) also had the least amount of dandelion greens. In any case, according to my mother, many women of her generation who were born in Casacalenda and immigrated to Montreal, Canada, only actively started to pick dandelion greens after they had arrived to this country. They noticed that their neighbors and co-workers from other regions in the South went out to the near-by fields and there collected dandelion greens. They showed them which were the best for salads etc. and soon enough those women from Casacalenda followed suit. Obviously, this is how my mother remembers what took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but I can't say for sure whether other Italians from Molise had the same experience. I suspect my late aunt, Zia Teresa, whose parents owned some of the best farmland in Casacalenda, had lots of dandelions growing in her fields and that they were made use of. In fact, my own mother, when pressed hard for details, does admit that Nonna Seppe, her mother, did pick dandelion greens, but that she herself never grew to like them. Now, this might be just a personal take on the history of dandelion use in and around Casacalenda, or it may suggest that the reason there are so few traditional recipes from Molise that include dandelion greens, is because the people there simply didn't have enough of them, and/or the people there had a strong prejudice against them. Perhaps food historians know exactly what took place; at this point, I don't, but I will ask around.... According to my cousins, their mother, my late aunt, Zia Teresa, had absolutely no qualms about eating dandelion greens. In the spring she looked forward to going to her garden and digging them up. She used the young dandelion greens in salads, and the older ones in omelets. I am almost 100 per cent sure my late aunt learned how to do these recipes from her mother, and not from some neighbor or co-worker from another region in Italy, but I can't say I am 100 per cent sure, just almost 100 per cent sure which is not exactly the same thing.... Now I can tell you that having tried the recipe myself, cooking with dandelions is no easy feat. Digging them up is easy enough, but cleaning them, that's another matter. One really has to like dandelions to do this dish (If one doesn't know if one likes them or not one simply has to figure out if one likes spinach, as wild dandelions properly cooked taste very similar to garden-variety spinach). I can't say I like dandelion greens all that much (I guess I am truly my mother's daughter) but as my late aunt did like them and other people I have come across in my long life also enjoy them, it wouldn't surprise me that many people might take to them. And for those who won't go near an open field and dig them them, there is always an Italian supermarket near-by that sells cultivated dandelions at a very reasonable price.... Photo: Mary Melfi