I went up to the Cloisters on a too bright morning with a limp. It had been a while since I had seen the sun in all its glory. A little slip in the dark down the basement stairs had kept me in the house for weeks, which means no walk in the park or trips to the grocery store. After being a practical hermit for a spell, it was time to visit a proper hermitage — if the anachronistic and geological oddity of a medieval Franken-abbey in Manhattan counts as proper. I love the place with its seat up on the hill overlooking the Hudson, its sunny limestone courtyards lined with funny beautiful grotesque columns, and the miniaturized gardens full of old-world herbs. This time of year, the poisonous herbs in their own patch of sun are doing much better than the pale stunted salad greens in the corner, though the battalions of gardeners certainly have not been neglecting their duties. Weeds don’t stand a chance here, which is a real pity.
If there were real monks living the hermetic life in these cloisters, they would be gathering dandelions and making use of every part from the roots to the flowers. The roots can be roasted to brew a dark and bitter drink not unlike coffee. The stems and leaves often go into salads and sandwiches. The bright flowers can be eaten straight or made into dandelion blossom wine. A whole day’s menu can be constructed around what is typically viewed as an unwelcome invader in the garden.
Luckily, my backyard is not so well defended against weeds. Round faces of giant dandelions rear up among the azaleas and bleeding hearts. The jagged green leaves that accompany the yellow flowers satisfied my chlorophyll craving when I was sequestered at home. I avoided a one-legged hop to the grocery store, saved a few dollars from this month’s housekeeping budget, and weeded the backyard in one fell swoop (but as long as the tap roots remain, the dandelion will spring back up soon enough).
Raw dandelion blossoms taste grassy and sweet while the leaves are refreshingly bitter.Blanch the leaves first, then sauté them in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes to cut the bitterness nicely. Compose a salad or a pasta dish by balancing the bitterness with subtly sweet ingredients like toasted hazelnuts,seared duck leg confit (cured for three days in bourbon, five spice, and honey). It’s an ad hoc meal for a rather decadent hermit who is lucky enough to appreciate a little piece of wilderness in the city.
If you have any comments, questions, or other tasty (or morbid) tidbits, contact DuanDuanat SnackBar.Kitchen@gmail.com.