Cicoria alla Romana – Roman-Style Sauteed Chicory/Dandelion Leaves

This is one case where BITTER is definitely BETTER. Meals in Rome and other parts of Italy are often accompanied by a side dish of bitter greens. There are several varieties of chicory or dandelion greens that are used, and the foil of rich meat or grilled fish against a bracingly bitter vegetable is a classic mouthful of flavor. I happen to like bitter greens these days (though not always) so I was intrigued by the rather vibrant bunch of “Italian Dandelion” that I spotted at the Teraoka family farms stall at the recent Philippine Harvest bazaar. I bought two bunches…

The leaves struck me as being a bit bigger than they should have been, either a result of our bright sunny hot weather at the moment, or they were left too long before harvest. So I expected that what is normally bitter, even for Romans, would be even bitter-er, if you can imagine that.

When we returned home, I immediately cut off the tougher ends of the stems, near the roots, and soaked the greens in cool water for 30 minutes or so, to rehydrate the leaves. I find this a useful step in our incredibly hot and humid weather. It’s amazing how lively your greens will look after the soak. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Cut the greens into 2-3 inch pieces.

If I were using younger more tender greens, I wouldn’t bother with this next step, which was to blanch the greens in salted boiling water for say 30 seconds or so, to tenderize the stems a bit more, and perhaps modulate the likely bitterness factor. Drain well.

Into a medium sized pan, add some olive oil and several cloves of garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add the dandelion greens and cook for some 5 minutes or so over medium heat (not wok sizzling heat) and salt generously and add some cracked black pepper and dried chili flakes. Take off the heat and serve hot, or at near room temperature, as desired. This batch was WICKED BITTER. I could only manage a third of this small dish of greens, but they were delicious nonetheless.


7 Responses

  1. A dish of bitter greens is good for cutting successive days of rich meals such as during the holidays, unless the bitter herbs itself is required to be part of the meal as in certain Jewish holidays. In many traditional European communities, the queasy satiety caused by eating rich dishes is usually calmed with a gulp of bitter digestif. This is probably the role that dandelion wine plays in the domain of drinks.

  2. Greens usually turn more bitter when the weather gets hot so the greens should be less bitter when it gets cooler, pretty soon???

  3. What’s sold as “Italian dandelion” (actually a domestic chicory variety) is not the same as the wild dandelion (in a different though related genus, Taraxacum sp.). They look superficially similar and are cooked and eaten in much the same way.

    My first harvests in the spring are always dandelion leaves and hop shoots. My garden dandelions are the genuinely wild plant–dandelions are rather long-lived perennials and I have a few “pet dandelions” that I leave alone in the garden for the delicious greens they offer in the spring. Usually I saute them with olive oil and garlic and a pinch of crushed hot chile, and toss the lot with pasta.

    Blanching the leaves by putting a box or bucket or suchlike over the plant for a few days will decrease the bitterness, even in hot weather.

    @footloose: dandelion wine isn’t bitter at all, it is typically on the sweet side (at least those I have tried) and might have a citrusy note if fermentation included lemon or other citrus. Digestivs such as amaros (amari), which I adore, often have truly bitter ingredients such as gentian or wormwood or quinine. Italians used to use wines with quinine (chinotto) added as an actual medicinal concoction–especially when malaria was a serious problem in the Po valley and in the Veneto.

  4. Good Afternoon Sir/ Maam:
    I have read your article about lettuce market price there in Manila. I’vew been wanting ever since to be able to deliver quality lettuce directly to consumers in Manila. They say the market is monopolized or something like a mafia style, I dont know about that, i have no knowledge or proof about. Nevertheless, I really want to pursue my plan to do the business, Im a farmer myself but at present working in a Govt agency as a J.O employee. Its my dream to help fellow farmers and bring closer the products to consumers in a more friendly and market competitive atmosphere both beneficial to farmers and consumers.
    I hope we can help each other about this. Thank you.

  5. John, I don’t think there is a monopoly of specialty greens or lettuces in Metro-Manila. Quite the contrary, there are several small farmers who are now supplying such items to restaurants and weekend markets. Perhaps for things like potatoes and carrots and cabbages, that is more of a wholesale/bulk situation.

    Besides the challenges associated with farming (weather, terrain, temperature, staffing, etc.) I think one of the largest challenges is logistics… having the right produce when the market needs it, delivering it fresh to a city that is clogged with traffic, and payment options that can stretch the finances of a small producer.

    So while I always hope people would pursue their dreams, they should really do extensive homework about the situations that they are considering, so that expectations and reality are closer together.

    You may wish to visit any of several weekend markets and bazaars that feature small farmers to see what they have on offer, understand how large their farms are, and what prices might be like.



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