April 2009

Dandelion Greens

The budding of the first dandelion is nature’s way of letting us know that spring is here. Although better known as a golden flower or a mischievous garden weed, the dandelion is actually completely edible, petals and all. For recipe ideas, think of treating dandelion greens as similar to spinach—raw they make for an unlikely but pleasantly biting salad foundation, and when sautéed, braised, stewed or boiled that distinguishing bitterness is reduced. Nutritionally speaking they have great value—rich in Vitamins A and C, dietary fiber, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium

Chef Drew Belline of Floataway Café in Atlanta uses crisp dandelion greens as the bed for a refreshing salad, and throws in crunchy honey-roasted walnuts and Bartlett pear to add texture and offset the greens’ astringency.

Rich in protein, iron, and fiber, this shell bean variety has served as a staple of diets in Asia, the Middle East, South America, North Africa, and Europe since ancient times. Not only is the fava bean a body booster, but it’s also a soil booster—they aid in sustainable agriculture by acting as a cover crop infusing nitrogen into soil, and improving its texture. If you grow your own produce, planting favas isn’t a bad idea. Buttery and nutty, they pair well with most anything—from spring vegetables to tender meats—and are substantial enough to stand as a main plate like in a hearty and flavorful soup. These über-beans are only available for a short couple of months during the spring, so get them while you can.

At restaurant Iris in New Orleans chef Ian Schnoebelen sautés a spring mixture of fava beans, mushrooms, and lentils as an accompaniment to his piquant pepper-rubbed lamb.

This vibrantly red vegetable, which is often used and confused as fruit, has a tart, tangy flavor that lends itself beautifully to both savory and sweet dishes (see our Rhubarb feature for ideas). Its most familiar application is in pastries and sweets, especially pies or tarts combined with sugar and other fruit, and leftover scraps can be made into a sweet or savory compote. When cooking rhubarb, it is important to remember that it varies in sweetness and sweetens as it cooks, which makes the amount of sugar needed hard to determine. So try to start out with less sugar and add more after cooking.  

In this recipe chef Stephen Browning of Flatbush Farm in Brooklyn, NY makes a rhubarb rice pudding. He cooks down a mix of rhubarb, sugar, and red wine, tops it with a sweet rice pudding, and then caramelizes the top like a brulee.

Peak pineapple season is short but sweet, lasting from the early start of spring through June. Pineapples are picked ripe because once off the tree the starch won’t turn to sugar, so for the most concentrated flavor, and for ultimate caramelization select those with the most intense coloring as they have the highest sugar content. For the ripest pineapples, buy Hawaiian Jet pineapples, sent freshly picked and delivered to markets via plane—the drawback is that these pineapples are more costly than those that travel by boat.

Chef Brandon Sharp of Solbar in Calistoga, CA takes a savory approach to the pineapple in his pork-centric Lucky Pig dish pickling it with a mixture of rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, cloves, szechuan peppercorns, vanilla bean, lime juice, and salt.

Although available year-round these days, spring to summer is the best season for locally-grown squash, and zucchini is the most common type (of which there are several varieties). Zucchini freezes extremely well and keeps for up to twelve months, so you can put some away to incorporate into your fall recipes. Harder to find, but worth the search, are zucchini blossoms. They are highly perishable and can be expensive, but stuffed with fresh goat cheese and fried they make a crispy, gooey starter.

At Bistro Daisy in New Orleans, chef Anton Schulte tosses a mix of julienne zucchini, red onion, and bacon with his grilled sweetbreads. The zucchini provides a crisp textural contrast to the supple sweetbreads while lightening up the richness of the dish.