Parsnips and Dandelion Greens
Tradition has it that the first foods to appear in spring are tonics – medicinal plants thatcleanse the body of a winter’s worth of toxins accrued from eating fatty foods and few, if any, fresh fruits and vegetables. Certainly the early greens of spring are packed withnutrition, perhaps none more so than dandelions, which are loaded with vitamins A, K and C and E, as well as calcium, iron and heart-healthy omega acids.Dandelion greens are free for the taking at this time of year. Head out to your garden and odds are you’ll find the characteristic saw-toothed rosettes trying to take over the asparagus patch or the unplanted vegetable beds – they’re actually a sign of fertilesoil. Look for plants that haven’t bloomed yet. These are the most tender, and their unopened flower buds are especially tasty. Simply pull up the plants deep taproots and all(if you leave the root behind, a new dandelion will grow from it). Dandelions are alsoabundant in lawns and fields, but
harvest dandelions that have been treated withfertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.To prepare the greens, cut away the root and discard it, then drop the leaves into alarge bowl of cold water and swish them around so the grit sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the leaves out (so the grit remains behind in the bowl), set them aside in acolander, and discard the dirty water. Rinse the bowl well, then refill it with cold water and wash the greens again. Repeat a third time if necessary to thoroughly clean thegreens. Dry them in a salad spinner or on a dishtowel and store in a plastic bag in therefrigerator, where they’ll keep for several days.Young, tender dandelion greens are a delicious raw addition to salads or servedlightly sautéed with garlic in olive oil. Older dandelion greens should be tenderized before sautéing by being blanched for a minute or two in a big pot of boiling water, justuntil they turn bright green and soften a bit.Parsnips that have been over-wintered are the perfect foil to the dandelion’sassertive bitterness. Seeded in spring, parsnips are harvested months later only after frostshave turned the starchy roots meltingly sweet. Those parsnips that make it through winter uneaten by voles are one of the first harvests of spring, a flexible vegetable that can besautéed, roasted, boiled and mashed, or even eaten raw. Now, though, in mid-spring,these biennials are sending out leaves in preparation for flowering and seed production inearly summer. This turns the roots tougher and spongy, which means, sadly, that the endof April into early May is the last call for garden-fresh parsnips.Luckily, parsnips are a flexible vegetable, one that has been turning up in justabout everything I cook these days as I rush to harvest the last of my parsnips. They’re just as delicious as the main ingredient in gnocchi served atop sautéed dandelion greens,or as the grace note in a buttery, maple cake flecked with vanilla bean and cardamom. Asfor the few parsnips we don’t manage to eat, they’ll be lovely in a month or two whenthey blossom and the patient bees finally get a turn to enjoy their sweetness.
12 Tbs. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus a little more to butter the pan½ vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla4 whole green cardamom pods or 1 tsp. ground cardamom (optional)4 eggs at room temperature