A lot of people let their kids watch a show before bed or read them a story or two. When we were kids, we had different customs this time of year. After dinner was done and the kitchen was clean, my mother would grab a couple of grocery bags and her trusty kitchen knife and off we went; our routine walk through the ditches of Wilsonville to harvest cicoria (dandelion greens). Yup, those ‘weeds’ that people are constantly trying to get rid of actually make a great addition to salads and a delicious dish when boiled and dressed with salt and olive oil. For a little extra flavour, you can sautee the cooked greens in hot oil with garlic and hot peppers, but we’ll cover a recipe another day. We just want to quickly go over the details of harvesting cicoria, dandelion greens, and hope you see those ‘weeds’ in a new light!
Recently, my mom pointed out all the wonderful cicoria in my yard, so I called Anna to bring her parents to show us what and what not to pick. Any Italian is thrilled with an invite to a ‘spot’ for good picking!
First and foremost, you want to pick in an area that you’re sure has not been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals. As well, you will want to make sure the area you are picking in is not close to roads and traffic where dirt and pollution can collect. Look for younger plants. Brown or red veins means they are too old, still edible but way too bitter. What you really are looking for are green to whitish veins in the leaves. When you find a plant ready to pick, you take your knife and cut out just under the ground where the root starts. It won’t take long to fill a bag full.
The cleaning process is next. First you remove the older leaves, if any, around the bottom and cut out the core. You’re basically just left with all the tender leaves which offer the best taste and least amount of cooking time. Wash very well, it may take a few times. Drain and use as desired. If you have harvested a large amount you can blanch and freeze them in food safe freezer bags or containers to use later in the year. You will appreciate the flavour in the off season when fresh greens are hard to come by!
There you have it. If you have a dandelion ‘problem’ just let the word out amongst your local Italian groups or have someone with experience come and show you how to safely pick suitable dandelion greens for eating! One’s pesky weed is another’s treasure!