“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
We’re at the far edge of what farmers call the “the hungry gap,” the time in April when winter stores are waning and before we can depend on the new season’s growth. Foraging in our own backyard helps us to bridge that lack — where others may see invasive weeds, we’re discovering the potential opportunity for finding food.
Dandelions are among the easiest to begin foraging with. With their distinctive notched leaves, familiar sunny faces, and flyaway seeds, most of us learn to identify them early on and without much thought. Choose leaves while they’re still young and tender, before the heads have blossomed and their bite becomes bitter. Combined with fistfuls of the long, green stalks of Egyptian onions, they lend a tonic brightness to this classic combination of pasta and beans. Evenings here still hover in the low 40’s, and this dish provides both warmth against spring’s chill, and a hint of the good things to come.
The beans in this dish form a creamy sauce and serves as a base to a wide range of seasonal flavors; I’m already imagining this combined with walnut sage pesto once the sage plants return. The anchovies help to tame bitter greens, use a milder green if omitting their saline presence. Breadcrumbs toasted with olive oil add a pleasing crunch, more can be served alongside. As always, amounts are adjustable to taste or what you have on hand.
Maccheroni with White Beans, Dandelion Greens and Anchovies
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 anchovy fillets
Large pinch of dried hot pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
2 cups cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
1 bunch dandelion leaves
2 bunches of green onions
1 pound maccheroni (macaroni, or elbow pasta) or penne, ziti or rigatoni
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper
Toasted bread crumbs
– Heat the oil in a large deep skillet set over medium heat, add garlic, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add anchovies and pepper flakes, and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the anchovies. Add the white wine and water, and bring to a boil. Reduce the liquid slightly, then slide in the white beans. Once the beans come back to a simmer, crush 1/3 of the beans in the pan with the back of a spoon or with a masher, forming a creamy sauce.
– Stir in greens, 1 teaspoon salt, and more water if pan is too dry. Continue to cook until the greens are tender. While greens are cooking, cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente (cooked through, but still firm when you bite). Drain pasta, add to greens mixture, and toss. If necessary, add pasta water to loosen sauce. Season generously with pepper and more salt, if desired. Finish with some good olive oil, and serve with breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil.
Recipe adapted from “Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond” by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.
Local ingredients: Cannellini beans from Meadow’s Mirth; greens and garlic from the garden.