The ubiquitous dandelion is usually thought to be just a pesky weed, but the plant is edible, highly nutritious, and downright tasty. Its long and slender leaves are particularly sweet when they first emerge during spring. As summer approaches, the lance-shaped foliage morphs into jagged lobes, each shaped like the tooth of a lion or, as the French say, "dent de lion." During this transformation, the taste of these leaves shifts from pleasantly bitter to disagreeably acrid. Spring is therefore the ideal time to pick up tender dandelion leaves, toss them into salads, and benefit from their health-invigorating properties.
Dandelion's scientific name is Taraxacum officinale. The term "officinale" comes from the Medieval Latin noun "officina," meaning the storeroom of a monastery, where medicinal herbs and other provisions were kept. Long regarded as a remedy for sluggish digestion, dandelion leaves are packed with potassium, zinc, and vitamins C and D. The greens contain more iron and calcium than spinach and greater amounts of ß-Carotene than carrots. In traditional Chinese medicine, dandelion is used to treat stomach and liver problems, to promote lactation, and to try to heal breast cancer. It's the cure-all that you didn't know you had growing in your front yard!
Lucky for us, dandelion grows worldwide. The familiar yellow flower head, a composite cluster of tiny florets, pops up from grass lawns, roadside ditches, and other disturbed soils. The plant's long, brittle taproot is partly responsible for its reputation as the bane of home gardeners. Not only does the root extend deep into the soil, it also easily breaks and re-propagates, making the plant difficult to remove. However, the root is a powerful diuretic, and also can be ground to make a non-caffeinated coffee substitute. As intriguing as that sounds, I think I'd rather stick to my morning cup o' joe and get my fill of this miraculous weed by cooking the following recipe for ravioli stuffed with dandelion greens.
Dandelion Greens Ravioli
It's very important that you add a healthy amount of fat to the ravioli filling because the nutritious ß-Carotene is better absorbed if eaten with fat. The sweetness of the cream and butter also offsets the bitterness of the dandelion greens, making for a well-balanced dish. Plus, they're luscious and gratifying!
Makes 35 to 40 small ravioli, depending on how much self-control you have in "taste-testing" the filling. I usually end up with closer to 30 ravioli.
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches dandelion greens
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1¼ cups diced onion
1 head green garlic or 2 - 3 cloves mature garlic, sliced thinly
½ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
½ lemon, zested
1½ tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as any combination of parsley, oregano, thyme, or basil)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mound the flour on a flat surface. Using your fingers or a spoon, poke a hole in the center so that the flour pile looks like a volcano. Crack the eggs into the hole. Beat the eggs with a fork, incorporating bits of flour from the side edges until the dough comes together. If it feels dry and crumbly, add a bit of water. Knead it for a few turns, and then shape the dough into a ball. Pour a few drops of olive oil into your palm and rub it on the dough. Cover it with a damp cloth. The pasta dough will benefit from a 15 to 20 minute rest but you can place it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. (Let the dough warm to room temperature before rolling it out.)
Taste the dandelion leaves. If their bitterness offends you, blanch the greens in salted boiling water until they are less bitter. Otherwise, snip off any stems that are not tender. Roughly chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon butter and, when the butter foams, add the diced onion with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until it caramelizes. Stir in the sliced garlic and cook for a minute longer. Pour in the wine, cooking until it reduces by half. Add the greens and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir the greens until they wilt and shrink, about 5 minutes. Pour in the heavy cream, cook for 1 minute longer, and then remove the skillet from the heat. Grind lots of fresh black pepper into the skillet and sprinkle the lemon zest and chopped herbs over the greens mixture.
Using a well-floured pasta machine or rolling pin, roll out the pasta dough. Keep it covered with a damp cloth until you are ready to fill the ravioli. Cut the pasta into 5-inch-wide strips. Place rounded teaspoons of filling along the edge closest to you. Fold the dough over itself and press down to seal the ravioli, squeezing out any trapped air. Trim the edges with a sharp knife.
Bring abundant water to a boil. Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean. Drop the ravioli into the boiling water and cook them for about 2 minutes. Drain and serve with a shower of chopped herbs or a few curls of Parmigiano cheese, if you like.