Spring has arrived! The first thing I look for when the Alpine snow melts and the grass starts to get green again is tender young cicoria growing out in the yard. Cicoria is what Italians call a common weed….dandelion leaves. Until I moved here, I only knew them for their puffball flowers, and I used the leaves as rabbit food. Last year when I helped out in the kitchen of a Michelin Star mountaintop restaurant, Al Caminetto, I spent many hours whittling down and cleaning the roots of baby dandelion plants, and learned just how delicious they are. When they mature a bit, they become quite bitter, and are good when cooked. However, when they are very young they make a delicious raw salad. They are still a bit bitter, but in a delicious, refreshing way.
|Cicoria salad with a lemon dressing|
Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for anything wild you decide to eat. If you are planning on picking weeds for dinner, do some solid research first. Make sure that you know exactly what you are picking, how to pick it, and when. Make sure the area hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals/raw manure, or otherwise contaminated.
Ok, that’s out of the way. I find the little cicoria babies out in the yard, and out in the fields surrounding my house. I go out with little garden clippers and a plastic bag. A knife or scissors would probably work, too. The cicoria tend to grow in clumps, and I look for them when there are still upright with relatively few leaves (4-8 or so), and about 1.5 inches tall. I take my clippers, and cut under the dirt, cutting them so that there is about a centimeter of root (yes, I know I’m using both imperial and metric measurements, it is what happens when you are an American living in Italy. It’s how I roll). Then it goes in the bag, and I keep going til I have as much as I want.
|Digging up with cicoria with clippers.|
Now for the tedious part! I use a sharp paring knife, and peel off the thin brown bark on the root and the dirt, and shorten it up a bit. It’s important to keep some of the root intact, as it is yummy and keeps the leaves together. Peel off any brown/icky leaves. It takes a while, but it’s worth it. If you have a rabbit running around, be careful because she will probably try to steal your hard-earned weeds.
|Dug up cicoria, before trimming|
|Cicoria, after trimming|
|Genepy the Alpine Bunny is a thief! But she is cute enough to get away with it.|
I soak the cicoria in a bowl of water, rinse, and repeat about 2 more times, depending on how dirty they are. I like to toss it in a dressing made of the juice of half a lemon and a spoonful of olive oil, with a pinch of salt and pepper. The lemon goes really well with the light bitterness of the cicoria. I eat it without any other adornments, so as to fully appreciate the full flavor!
I am lucky, indeed, to have a husband who appreciates a wife who makes him eat weeds.