There’s a field at the bottom of my garden which, in a few weeks time, will be dotted with bright yellow dandelion flowers. Pretty to look at, but the downside of this is that not long after the flowers appear, there’ll be seeds drifting across the hedge on their fluffy parachutes and settling in the garden. This could drive me into a deep depression – I really have enough weeds of my own already, but I’ve been trying to be positive and find some good features of dandelions. There are some you know… while we look at the cheerful yellow flowers and see an invasive, difficult to get rid of weed, the local wildlife is seeing a source of food.
Dandelions have nectar rich flowers that attract bees, hoverflies and butterflies. And it produces these flowers over a long season, starting early in the spring when the insects emerging from hibernation really need a good food source. The leaves are a larval food plant for the white ermine moth, and the seeds are eaten by finches. Admittedly, it would be good if the finches ate more of the seeds – each dandelion ‘flower’ is really a composite of hundreds of small flowers… so it will produce hundreds of seeds.
One of the things making dandelions such annoying weeds is that they are real survivors, well-adapted to disturbed and inhospitable habitats. In my garden they have a nasty habit of growing in the narrow gaps between paving slabs, making it really difficult to weed them out effectively. They also like the flower borders, vegetable patch and lawn of course – anywhere really, which shows how adaptable they are.
I haven’t used dandelions in the kitchen before, but the flowers and leaves are both edible – bitter, but edible. So this year I’ve decided to start being a bit more adventurous and have been looking up some recipes. The flowers can be added to salads, or dipped in batter and fried to make fritters. Young dandelion leaves are used like chicory or endive in salads, or added to risottos. Or in a mix of leaves to make a fresh and garlicky pesto…
Yesterday, I picked a bowlful of leaves from the garden to make a quick and easy spring pesto – there was a mixture of young dandelion leaves, nettle tops, parsley, mint, sorrel and chives. Two handfuls of leaves made enough pesto for a couple of meals. One foraging tip though – if you’re using nettles, keep them separate from the other leaves then you don’t have to spend ages picking them out of the washed mixture so that you can boil them…
As there’s a good helping of parmesan in the pesto, I’m hoping I can add this to the lovely list of cheese recipes for this month’s One Ingredient challenge. This is co-hosted by Nazima, who has the current challenge over at Franglais Kitchen and Laura over at How to Cook Good Food (there’s a really nice looking recipe for onion, cider and Cheddar soup on Laura’s blog…)
Spring leaves pesto
2 big handfuls of spring leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped
25g pine nuts
30g blanched almonds
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
50g freshly grated parmesan
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Wash the leaves thoroughly, then drain them. If you’re using nettles, cook them for a couple of minutes in boiling water to remove the sting. Refresh with cold water, drain and press the cooked leaves with the back of a wooden spoon to remove excess water.
Put the leaves, garlic, chilli, pine nuts, almonds and olive oil into a food processor and blitz until everything is quite finely chopped. Spoon the pesto out into a bowl and add the grated parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve stirred through warm pasta with a tomato salad.
This looks lovely Sarah, just the sort of recipe I’m a fan of at the moment. We get lots of dandelions in our garden too, last year it was really satisfying digging them and tossing them to the pigs. Looks as if it’s going to be pretty good eating them ourselves this year though.
It’s just a shame the leaves are so bitter, otherwise eating them would make for effective weed control!
My 3 year old loves blowing on the seed heads, in fact I think it is his favourite thing to do these days.
It is very satisfying, watching all those seeds float away… just not so great when it’s happening in your own garden!
I have exactly the same problem… at the bottom of my garden is a large field just about to come into flower! I tried dandelion bread a few years ago, and was not terribly impressed – it used the flowerheads so was a nice colour, but not very flavoursome. Sounds like a delicious pesto… I need a few more leaves to show before I can attempt it though! 😀
That’s dandelion bread crossed off my list of recipes to try then!
I certainly admire the tenacity of these fiendish little weeds so if they can be made into something tasty then I’ll forgive their invasive nature. Pasta simply served and freshly cooked is delicious. Pass the wine!
Red or white?
I love dandelions – no worries when a toddler sticks one in his mouth 🙂
Oooh, are they not too bitter for him?
You know one of my resolutions for this year is also to use up more of the leaves we often discard as being weeds. I need to go hunting of r nettle tips down at the allotment and dandelions re-appear in my garden as soon as I pick them. I actually love bitter flavours anyway which is why Campari is my favourite drink! This pesto sounds absolutely perfect and I bet it would be great added to soups too. Thanks for mentioning my soup and also for linking up to One ingredient! xx
Thanks Laura! I used the pesto to flavour some cous cous tonight – my daughter said it tasted like something from Ottolenghi… a big exaggeration, but high praise indeed!
Food and Forage Hebrides said:
Lovely pesto idea, I do like nettle pesto. I get less dandelions in the garden, despite it being a vast weedy wilderness. I used to pick the flowers for my tortoise Ruby. They were her favourites and very nutritious for her unfortunately , she is no longer with us but when I see the first dandelion flowers in spring, I always think of her . Thanks.
What a nice way to remember a pet.
Lisa the Gourmet Wog said:
Love your pesto recipe, thanks for sharing! It’s one of those staples in my kitchen, great with any meal
Thanks Lisa! Pesto is great to have in the fridge for a quick meal isn’t it?
Charlie@Seattle Trekker said:
Very intersting receipe. I have been trying them as a tea, I don’t quite know what I think yet.
I haven’t tried dandelion tea – probably a taste you’d have to get used to
this is great! I think I’m a bit worried I would pick leaves that weren’t safe to eat….I must do some homework on this!
I’ve only used very young dandelion leaves – these are more tender, but still very bitter
And there’s always dandelion wine – or deep fried flower heads
My neighbour has already remarked (in a nice, but puzzled way) on the number of nettles I have in the garden – imagine how pleased they’ll be when I tell them I’m growing a crop of dandelion flowers for wine!
Emma Cooper (@emmathegardener) said:
Lovely idea, thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks Emma – just trying to make the best of a bad situation, the weeds are taking control of the garden!
Like Elaine I think Dandelion Wine will be my way of using the flowers….
Dandelion wine sounds like a very good idea – have you made it?
Chez Foti said:
Oh how lovely. I keep meaning to attempt a freebie foraged pesto myself as we seem to have several acres of dandelions, nettles and wild garlic….as ever down to time but I WILL! And as for the cheeky addition of a green chili – I can’t say I’ve tried this either but loving the idea of spicing up a pesto!
The idea of eating dandelions and nettles really sold this pesto to the children – I guess foraged ingredients can encourage even fussy eaters to get enthusiastic about food!
We live in the country too and all kinds of unwanted weeds are blown in. I am going to try your recipe for spring herb pesto, I already use lots of leaves in salads. Here in Italy we can buy ‘misticanza’ which is a mix of many different leaves picked from the wild – always surprising and good. Christina
I love the idea of being able to buy bunches or bags of wild leaves! Foraging is becoming more popular in the UK, but still not that common – maybe because we’ve become more disconnected from nature and are cautious about what’s safe to eat.
Jacqueline @How to be a Gourmand said:
What a cracking shot of the dandelion – such vibrancy Sarah! Lovely interpretation of pesto using dandelion leaves and almonds.
Thanks Jacqueline – I’ll not tell you how many photos I took to get one reasonable one in focus!
Nazima @ franglais (@Franglaiscook) said:
As always such a lovely post and a really novel idea. I have not, for some reason, made much pesto at home but it seems so straightforward and I may have to try out your version for a spring pasta dinner. I guess the cheese counteracts the bitterness? Also what an amazing picture of the half blown dandelion flower.
Thanks Nazima. The flavour of the pesto really depends on the mix of leaves – I made it again this week with more mint and lots of nettles, so it was slightly different again.
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