By Beverly Barbour
Vegetables from amaranth to zucchini
Can you name 350 vegetables? An encyclopedia of every vegetable you have ever heard of and many that you have never heard of would be worth having under any circumstances. But, when you add several photographs plus recipes for each and every vegetable (500 recipes in all), you know you have stumbled upon a true GOTTA-HAVE-IT book.
Elizabeth Schneider is the relentless researcher, clever cook and readable writer who took more than seven years from her life to research, write and create the recipes for this suburb book. Not only should every library, chef and teacher have the book but every gardener, home cook and simply curious eater should have it at hand for ready reference. Publisher William Morrow; price $60.00 (only 12 center per recipe).
Because it is spring, let me give you a little taste of what Elizabeth has to say about dandelions (wild and cultivated) and their relatives dandelion chicory (three varieties). Wild dandelion, a native of Europe and Asia, now settled throughout the temperate zone, has been used for food and medicine since ancient times. Given the geographical range of the wild dandelion, it is odd that the culinary side has been developed almost exclusively in the Mediterranean. From that area comes the common name dandelion, through Latin to French, dent-de-lion (lion's tooth), arguably due to the leaf's sometimes saw-toothed appearance.
European immigrants are thought to have deliberately introduced dandelion to the New World for its tonic properties and as a food source for bees. Dandelion ranks high among honey-producing plants, thanks to its bounteous stores of pollen and nectar. In fact, with what is surely an angel's patience, it has been observed that no fewer than ninety-three kinds of insects help themselves to the dandelion's lavish larder, quotes Schneider.
The book says that wild dandelion leaves must be picked early in spring when they are petite and tender and look enchanting, too, like a swirly cock's tail. Now is the time! The French make a salad combining smoky bacon as a sweet and chewy foil to bitter dandelion or chicory leaves. The salad is often topped with a poached egg which makes it a perfect light meal.
DANDELIONS, CURLY ENDIVE & BACON SALAD
The French top this with croutons, scallions and often a poached egg. It was on the menu at a bistro in California's wine country the other day and it was delicious.
1/2 pound small dandelions or chicory
Cut apart dandelion stems if necessary. Swish in sink filled with water; lift out gently so debris sinks. Repeat as needed. Cut into manageable pieces. Spin dry. Cut apart curly endive; rinse. Cut into bite-size pieces and spin-dry. Combine both in salad bowl. Trim scallions and thin slice. Preheat oven to 350°F. Pare off and discard bacon rind, then cut bacon into 1/2-inch dice. In wide skillet, cook over moderately low heat to render fat and turn bacon brown but not brittle. Transfer to dish. Pour out and save fat (do not wash pan); measure 1/4 cup. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil (if less than 1/4 cup fat is rendered, make up the difference with more olive oil. Cut off and discard bread crust, then cut slices 1/2-inch thick. Arrange on baking sheet. Bake until firmed but not crisp - 3 to 4 minutes. Rub both sides generously with halved garlic (to scent, not to coat with pulp). Cut into 1/2-inch dice. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the reserved fat. Spread on baking sheet and bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Mix both vinegars and salt. In small saucepan, heat remaining 1/4 cup fat until hot but not smoking. Drizzle over greens, tossing to coat evenly. Add bacon to pan and reheat. Add to greens. Add vinegar mixture to pan and bring to a boil. Drizzle over greens, tossing well. Divide onto plates and sprinkle with croutons, scallions and pepper. Top with optional eggs and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.
"Dandelions can be exceptionally bitter or just-right bitter but somehow the sweetness of the peppers, and heat and sharpness of the sherry vinegar and ginger, adapt to enhance the greens when they're mild, and mellow the bitter when they're harsh," says Barbara Spiegel. Her recipe appears in Elizabeth's book.
DANDELIONS WITH RED PEPPER AND GINGER
Barbara cooks the full-length greens, but they can be cut into 2-inch lengths before cooking, says Elizabeth.
1 very large red bell pepper
Clean and chop red pepper. Warm oil in heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add red pepper and ginger and stir occasionally until pepper softens and releases its juices, a few minutes. Meanwhile, cut apart dandelion stems. Wash greens in several changes of water, lifting out gently so debris sinks. Without drying greens, add them to pan. Cover and cook 15 minutes. If greens seem dry, add a few spoonfuls of water. Stir, reduce heat to low and cook, covered 10 to 30 minutes, depending upon how firm or tender the dandelions are - and how firm or tender you like them. Season with sat, vinegar and sherry. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.