Dandelion Greens, Photo courtesy of Mariquita Farms that runs a fantastic CSA (March -Nov) and also offers $25 “mystery boxes” through the winter
Dandelions’ adaptability makes them one of my favorite cooking greens. They are tasty raw (or perhaps slightly wilted with a warm bacon vinaigrette), lightly sauteed with some hot pepper flakes, or slow cooked southern style, braised for hours with a smokey ham hock. They are one of the few greens that are both delicate and bold at the same time — their strong slightly bitter taste is offset by their delicate texture, making them supremely well-rounded. Young swiss chard sometimes falls into this category, but overall dandelions are in a category of their own.
I feel a bit “off” in my seasonality as of late. Between the international move, massive amounts of work, and hosting out of town guests, I haven’t visited the farmer’s market in nearly a month. I am having a hard time remembering if dandelion greens are typically available year round or only during the spring. The bunch I bought from Whole Foods was lush and fresh looking, but to be honest, I have no idea where it came from — California, Peru, Turkey, Mexico — something that is usually an important factor to me in my food shopping. Though I am a bit critical of myself for not knowing this information, part of me says that this is just one of those times when as my sister says, “people need to live their lives”. It’s important to keep food issues in the forefront of one’s mind and work towards a more ecologically sustainable system, but it’s also important that one not become obsessed and single-minded and miss the joy of a caringly prepared dish, even if out of season.
But hold on a minute while I put my soap box away on the other side of the room…
This gratin comes together in no time, and the simplicity of its ingredients belies its complex taste. The secret ingredient here is the nutmeg — not enough and the dish is a bit flat, but add too much and that’s all you taste. Err on the side of too little, and sprinkle a bit over the top as a garnish if you feel like it is missing something. It’s a particularly nice dish since the bottom is quiche-like, while the top is pure gratin with crispy breadcrumbs and bubbly cheese. And it even reheats well!
On a different note, with Thanksgiving leftovers just a stone’s throw away, a nice adaptation of this dish would be to use shredded cooked turkey (dark meat is preferable) in place of the cooked chicken. Happy Thanksgiving!
Chicken and Dandelion Greens Gratin
1 large bunch dandelion greens, about 1 1/4 lbs, cleaned and stems removed
3 small boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 10-12 oz)
2 T. butter, divided
1 T. flour
1 cup whole milk
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
~1/2 c. shaved parmesan cheese (to taste)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and grease a 2 qt. casserole dish or 9 inch pie plate.
Blanch dandelion greens in a large pot of boiling water. Boil for about 6 minutes, then drain, run under cold water, and squeeze out excess moisture. Finely chop greens and set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T. butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, then add chicken and saute until browned, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer chicken to a small bowl and set aside.
In the same skillet, melt the other 1 T. butter, then sprinkle flour over it. Whisk with a fork until smooth and cook for another 1 minute or so. Slowly add the milk and whisk until smooth, taking care to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and incorporate it all into the sauce. Add the nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in the greens and mix well. Add the eggs, gently breaking the yolks and whites as you fold them into the greens mixture.
Transfer the greens to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chicken and any accumulated juices over the top of the greens, and gently press it into the mixture. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the surface, then top with cheese. Bake uncovered for about 20 mintutes until the cheese is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden. If after 20 minutes the cheese isn’t bubbly or the breadcrumbs browned, broil for 1-2 minutes. Enjoy!