Julia O’Malley: Eat your weeds
Laurie Constantino, a local cookbook author, is one of those people you see stooped on the green slopes of city parks with her knife and grocery bag. She’s out there because she knows something the rest of us probably don’t. A lot of plants that we think are weeds are also good, nutrient-packed eating.
I follow Constantino’s food website, which has a trove of interesting recipes for wild edible Alaska plants. (Cow parsnip ice cream, anyone?) I visited her at her home the Hillside this past week because I was curious about the scourge of my lawn: dandelions. I don’t do pesticides (mainly out of laziness) and I can’t beat them. I wondered: Could I eat them?
Constantino’s answer: Oh yes. Then she offered to show me how to make pesto.
A little Internet research told me that dandelion greens have more than twice the vitamin A and vitamin C as spinach. I also read an article in The New York Times about how years of agriculture have bred the nutrients out of common supermarket foods but their wild relatives are way good for you. Crab apples have zillions of times more nutrients than Golden Delicious apples, for example. Wild purple potatoes are way better than Yukon Golds. Naturally, spinach kills iceberg lettuce in the antioxidant department. But dandelion greens crush spinach.
- 3 cups packed clean dandelion greens, stems removed.
- 1/2 cup parsley
- 3 to 5 cloves garlic (depending on your love of garlic)
- 2 ounces Parmesan, Romano or other hard Italian cheese (a block about the size of an Altoid box), roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or pumpkin seeds (optional)
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
In a food processor, mince the garlic well. Add the cheese. Pulse it a few times. Add other ingredients. Pulse a few more times until well combined. Store in a jar with a layer of olive oil over the top to prevent discoloration. Can be refrigerated for two weeks as long is there is oil on the top.