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.