Meatless Mondays: Dandelion Pesto

(Photo: Ian Knauer)

Ian Knauer is a regular contributor to TakePart. He worked for ‘Gourmet’ and is the author of the IACP Award–nominated cookbook ‘The Farm.’

Why meatless on Mondays? Not only is eating less animal protein a healthy diet choice, but curbing your meat consumption can have a significant environmental impact too. In 2006 the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that animal agriculture accounted for a full 19 percent of greenhouse gases—more than the transportation sector. Best of all, with recipes like these, going meatless can be a delicious weekly habit.

I used to say that fall was my favorite season, with its colorful painted leaves and the crisp edge to the air. That’s still true, sort of. There is one week in the fall that’s my favorite. It happens, often but not always, around the 12th of October. The rest of the fall is not so great. But if we only have four seasons, then fall is still my favorite because of that week. Except I don’t really see the calendar that way anymore.

Now that I’ve been living outside the big city for several years, I’ve come to see that we do not just have four seasons. We have more like 35 microseasons, most of which happen between March and November.

There’s the one in June in which the summer’s first berries start to glow like gems, and a thick cloud hovers over the fields every morning. There’s the one in late August when it’s so hot that the air feels like baseboard heat at six in the morning, and the tomatoes are warm on the vine by breakfast.

Then there’s this one—the one that’s happening right now. This microseason yields loads of asparagus and the end of the foraged wild greens. That’s how I found myself holding a case of bitter dandelion. It was too old and strongly flavored to sell. The restaurants didn’t want it, and the farm distribution group in my area offered it to my chickens. Then I offered it to my chickens, and it was too bitter for them too. They pecked and poked at the few leaves I tossed to them before walking away. I took the rest of the case to the kitchen, because it’s my job as a cook to work with the ingredients I have in front of me.

There is a way to temper bitterness in food, and it happens with acidic and salty balance. There is a sauce in the Italian cuisine—a cuisine that highlights both hyper-seasonality and balanced bitter flavors—that works perfectly with bitter dandelion. It’s pesto.

By adding some vinegar and salty cheese, you can balance the bitterness of the dandelion and make a great spread for crostini or sauce for your favorite pasta. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate this microseason for what it is and what it has to offer.

Dandelion Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

1 small garlic clove

1/2 cup pecans

1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cups dandelion leaves

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

With the motor running, drop the garlic through the tube of a food processor, and let it bounce around until finely chopped. Stop the food processor, and add the pecans, cheese, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; pulse to finely chop. Add the dandelion and pulse to finely chop. With the motor running again, pour the oil into the tube of the food processor until it is all added and the pesto is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To use the pesto in pasta, combine it with about 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water to loosen before tossing with cooked pasta. 

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