Dandelion greens

In preparation for the new site (soon!), I am going back into all my old posts and re-doing my tags.  I’ve got the most recent half of them done, and I’ve felt pretty good about the variety of categories.

However:  I am shocked that it took me this long to add a “put an egg on it” tag.

Putting An Egg On It is pretty much the new black, if you haven’t noticed, and I must admit, it’s for very good reason.  Eggs are an inexpensive source of protein, even if you are getting the gorgeous $6/dozen ones at the farmers’ market.  They’re less heavy than a portion of meat, and more versatile.  Scrambled, frittata-ed, poached, or sunny side-up, they’re the humble, everyday, culinary equivalent to the rug in the Big Lebowski:  they really pull a dish together.  Because we’re suckers for a bright, runny yolk, and too lazy to poach an egg, sunny eggs are pretty much to go-to around here.  Crispy edges, soft middle,  poised and ready to ooze.

We spent all winter putting a fried egg on top of bean/green/vegetable concoctions, over thick, bricky stews, and nestled in polenta and marinara (in purgatorio, definitely a post for another time soon).  For the first time in my life it dawned on me that if I was not careful with this new repertoire, I would likely eat an egg for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all in the same day.  We stopped using our steak knives for steak, and started using them to deftly halve and distribute the still-runny yolks of our fried eggs throughout whatever else was in the bowl.

So after this last weekend’s Anniversary Road Show antics, waking up from a 3 hour food coma emergency nap on Sunday afternoon (diagnosis:  too much anniversary), Danny and I populated our grocery list with some staples, including a much-needed dozen eggs.  (If there are no eggs in the fridge it really does feel like a destitute situation.)  We also allotted quite a few spots for freebie, whatever-looked-good vegetables.  It seemed it was officially time again for springtime experimentation in the kitchen, and this week’s wild card was:  dandelion greens.

Wild card?  Sort of.  It’s not that I’ve never had them.  But I’ve never used them in my own kitchen.  The nice part was that they were A Green, so one should, ostensibly, be able to prepare them as one would Any Other Green: chopped, sauteed with some sort of allium(s), possibly braised with a bit of broth if necessary to break up coarseness or bitterness.  There’s a formula to everything.  But the dandelion’s x-factor came from its profound bitterness.  I hear people talk about bitterness in raw kale, and I have literally no clue what they are talking about.  Chewy?  Sure.  Very green-tasting?  Absolutely.  Bitter?  Nope.

But dandelion greens.  SHARP.  Don’t be fooled by the adorable ranunculus up there, sitting in that adorable ceramic Mason jar (not my work; I have an insanely talented sister).  Those babies are spicy.

So sometimes the best thing to do to counteract one sort of sharpness is add other layers of it, just in different shades.  Give that edgy green some friends to round it out so it doesn’t seem like such a loner:  a tart, bright top note in a squeeze of lemon, some red pepper flakes to blend the bitterness right on into a very enjoyable spicy sting, and the quiet tang of ricotta salata.  Then, introduce it to some softer friends, like creamy chickpeas, a strong, smoky foundation of bacon fat, and – you guessed it – an egg.  You know, for example.

Oh, so you want to make this happen?  I don’t blame you.  It was a refreshing and light supper that tasted great on the first go, and reheated wonderfully (I just left it in the skillet) after Danny got home.  All you need to do is fry up a fresh egg to throw on top.

Get this:
  • 1 bunch dandelion greens (maybe 1/2 lb?), rinsed and chopped
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat (because like us, you also spent the winter putting crumbled bacon on everything and reserved the fat in a jar for just such an occasion.)  Okay, olive oil would work great too.
  • 2 pinches red pepper flakes – one if you want it milder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained but not rinsed
  • 1/4 cup stock (chicken or vegetable, doesn’t matter)
  • fresh black pepper
  • 1 ounce ricotta salata (I usually find the sheep’s milk ricotta, but if you can find goat ricotta salata, so much the better)
  • 2 eggs (or one per person)
  • freshly halved lemon

Do this:
Heat a large skillet – I feel obligated to bust out the cast iron skillet anytime I’m doing anything involving bacon fat – on medium-high, until almost smoking.  Add the bacon fat or oil, then slice the shallots thinly over the pan using a mandoline.  Stir thoroughly, making sure not to burn the shallots, and also to coat them in the bacon fat.  After about 30 seconds, add your salt and red pepper flakes, stir, and reduce heat to medium.
Add the dandelion greens to the pan, stirring so that they wilt slowly and evenly.  Add the chickpeas and stir into the greens – the residual starch from the beans will help bind the beans & greens together.  Add the stock and simmer slowly.  Kill the heat when most of the liquid has evaporated.
While that’s simmering, heat a small nonstick frying pan over high heat.  Add a splash of olive oil or cooking spray to the pan.  Once the pan is very hot, fry up however many eggs you’re planning to use.  Salt their crowns, and pepper the white to taste.  We like our eggs with the white pretty much cooked, and the yolk runny, but you may have other preferences.
Once the eggs are done, portion out the greens mixture between two bowls.  You could probably stretch this to three, or even four, especially if you end up tossing other greens in there (spinach, escarole, chard, etc).  Shred a little ricotta salata over the top, and then squeeze the lemon on top of that.  Slide an egg on top of everything, and breakfast/lunch/dinner is served.

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