Cicoria alla Romana

One of the great things about being in Rome is knowing that the same dishes will be on every restaurant menu at any given time of year.  When a vegetable or fish is in season, everyone offers it.

I’m usually in Italy in the fall, and at that time, every restaurant offers sauteed dandelion greens.  These greens are boiled, squeezed and simply sauteed with garlic, chili flakes and olive oil.  They are slightly bitter and earthy, tamed by the salt, oil and garlic.

I’ve been finding beautiful dandelion greens in my local markets and have been making salads with the leaves (see spring vegetable salad with pecorino sardo), soups and pasta dishes with the stems (see pasta, ceci e cicoria).

Tonight, I was in the mood for the simple Roman experience of chili flakes, garlic and olive oil.  For this dish, I’ll give you the technique, but a recipe is not required.

The main thing to realize is that dandelions, like spinach, shrink tremendously when cooked, therefore make sure you start out with a sufficient enough quantity to feed your guests.  A bunch of dandelions (about a pound) is enough to feed 2 to 3 persons generously.

The next important step is to clean them well.  Slice the stems and leaves separately into 2″ lengths and drop into deep bowls of cold running water.  Allow the sand and dirt to fall to the bottom of the water, then pull the greens out and repeat until there is no more sand left in the bottom of the bowl.

First, drop the stems into salted boiling water and boil for 10 minutes.  Drain and shock in cold water.  Next, drop the leaves into the same boiling water and cook for 8 minutes.

Shock and drain.

Squeeze the cooked greens well in small bundles to extract as much water as possible.  Set aside until ready to saute and serve.

In a broad skillet on low heat, place a generous number of peeled, split garlic cloves face down in a generous amount of olive oil (at least a quarter-cup) and slowly bring to a sizzle, until the cloves are golden brown.  Add chili flakes and briefly saute for a minute or so.

Raise heat to high and add greens, along with a generous sprinkle of salt.  Saute for about 7 minutes, stirring and turning, until the greens begin to caramelize.  Taste and add salt, if necessary (it takes a lot to season them authentically).  Serve immediately.

Tonight, along with the greens, I made pan-seared salmon (for the technique, see salsa verde with pan-roasted salmon), roasted beets, and roasted potatoes.

For the roasted potatoes, I chose my mother’s method of peeling and slicing into disks, sprinkled with rosemary, oil and salt, and roasted at 400 degrees, uncovered, for about 40 minutes.  If these weren’t so simple to make, they’d be worth a post on their own!

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