by Alison Boyd-Savage
During my visits to the Greek Island of Andros in late spring and early summer, I was fascinated by the groups of women combing the hillsides in search of the mixture of wild plants and herbs locally called Horta.
When I finally got to peek into their foraging baskets, I saw that the bulk was made up of dandelion greens, plus purslane and sorrel, to name just a few of the edible “weeds.” These greens would later turn up as part of the evening menu in the local tavernas.
The greens would be boiled in salted water, drained and sautéed, before being dressed with lemon, salt and copious quantities of the thick green local olive oil. For centuries they formed an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, before main food crops were harvested, and nutrients were in short supply.
In the eastern Mediterranean, they are still used in soups and salads and to add flavor and sharpness to flaky pies of creamy local cheeses. This version, featuring dandelions, is adapted from Paula Wolfert’s wonderful, Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, the definitive guide for anyone interested in mastering these healthy and flavorful dishes.
Closer to home, the sunny days of April and May bring an explosion of golden dandelions to roadsides and lawns. Many gardeners see them as a nuisance and reach for herbicides to eradicate them. Growing awareness of how important these plants are to bees and other pollinators, is causing many to rethink this practice.
Here on the North Fork, KK’s the Farm in Southold has dedicated Sunday, May 5, to celebrating the Dandelion with a joyous festival, with all welcome. Through biodynamic practices, the dandelion and other wild plants flourish there, alongside more conventional food crops. This spring, banish the chemicals, bake a dandelion cheese pie and come on down to the farm.
Spring Greens and Cheese Pie
The mixture of creamy ricotta and mozzarella, paired with aged parmesan, strikes a perfect balance with the tangy greens and bright flavors of the fresh mint.
Note: be sure to use purchased dandelion greens for this recipe. The flavor is milder and roadside and lawn plants may contain contaminants. KK’s The Farm in Southold has wonderful biodynamic greens and they can also be found in season at local supermarkets.
Lombardi’s Market in Mattituck is my go-to for their top-quality mozzarella and ricotta made in-store daily. As an optional step, I brushed the top crust with a simple batter of oil, flour and water. This extra layer gives it a homemade touch, and a golden-brown finish.
1lb. Swiss chard, thoroughly washed and tough stalks removed
1 large bunch purchased dandelion greens
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 bunches of scallions, white and pale green part finely chopped
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. freshly grated aged parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
6 oz. coarsely grated fresh mozzarella cheese
1 ½ cups fresh ricotta
3 large eggs lightly beaten
1 lb. frozen phyllo dough thawed overnight in the refrigerator
2 tbsp. melted butter mixed with 2 tbsp. olive oil
Lemon wedges for serving
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. olive oil
¼ approx. cup water
Pinch of salt
Shred the leaves and fine stems of the swiss chard. Place in a large bowl, add 1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt and let leaves wilt down for down for one hour. Wash and dry dandelion greens thoroughly. Rinse chard to remove salt and squeeze out excess moisture.
Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a large heavy skillet; add scallions and cook over low heat until soft, before transferring to a side dish. Heat two more tbsps. oil in skillet and sauté greens for about 3 minutes until soft and the oil has been absorbed. Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool. Stir in the scallions, mint, cheeses and black pepper, mixing thoroughly, before adding the eggs.
Grease a 16-inch metal pizza pan (you can substitute a 12 x 17-inch sheet pan). Melt butter and olive oil together over low heat.
Remove half of the phyllo from package. Unroll and place on a wooden board and cover with a damp cloth to prevent dough drying out. Working quickly, spread the dough sheets on top of each other, lightly brushing each layer with the oil and butter mixture. Make sure the layers just barely overlap the edges of the pan. Spread the cheese and greens mixture in an even layer over the base, leaving a 1-inch rim around the sides. Cover with the other half of the phyllo, again brushing each layer with the oil and butter mixture. Trim the thick edges of the pie.
Whisk together the oil, flour and a pinch of salt, adding enough water to make a smooth and creamy batter. Brush evenly over the top of the pie.
Place in the center of a preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for a further 35 to 40 minutes. The top should be a deep golden brown.
Cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving with a squeeze of lemon and a crisp green salad. Leftover pie is delicious served cold and should be well wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days.