Salad Rossini, eating on the wild side

 "Drama, drama, drama! An Italian meal is like an opera," 
once wrote the well-known gastronome, Waverley Root, referring to the clashing plates and clinking glasses ringing out notes rather like a composer might have placed them.

If you started the new year craving something healthy, eat your weeds. A handful of bitter leaves added to your salad bowl could just be the thing to introduce you to a new year joy of bitterness.. Dandelions grow everywhere close to home, and are packed full of vitamins and minerals, while the bitter compounds found in their leaves are reputed to stimulate the liver, kidneys and gall bladder, and aid digestion.Well good news,the rains have abated,the sun is shining and greens are a-springin´ - the wild foraging season has begun! The must-chew colour of the season is dandelion. Get ready to start picking and eating.Field mushrooms have been popping while dandelion´s are sprouting. Though detested on lawns, the dandelion is free, grows without care and then we pull it up and poison it, what an interesting paradox. What we need is right in front of us, yet we go to a lot of trouble to eradicate it. This gives us a glimpse into our sometimes upside down relationship with nature.Dandelions are now cultivated commercially and are widely available at farmers markets and supermarkets. Even better, go out and forage them for yourself, just be sure to avoid areas where dogs have been or weed killer might have been sprayed, Its gods way of telling us to stop buying bagged salads. For my neighbours who watched the spectacle, it must have been a curiosity the likes of which most old traditional Portuguese folk don’t see anymore: a grown Englishman crawling around Portuguese soil on his hands and knees with a pair of gardening scissors in one hand and a colander in the other.The word dandelion comes from the French, dent de lion, or dente di leone in Italian, dente de leao in Portuguese and refers to the green teeth on the leaves. In France, they're also called pissenlit,, for the leaves have diuretic properties.The whole dandelion plant is edible and nutritious – root, leaves, and flowers. It grows in most climates and terrains, although the growing season is dependent on seasonal rains. This is a valuable survival plant as it will keep you alive even if you have nothing else to eat. It contains all the nutritive salts the body needs to purify the blood and is a liver tonic as well as a safe diuretic.The taste is a bit of a cross between rocket and kale — slightly bitter and robustly peppery. They are about a foot long with a saw-tooth edge. Stumped for how to use them? Consider them for any recipe where you’d normally use rocket, or even baby spinach.To counteract the bitterness I would suggest combining them with other leaves or something sweet like pears and cheese.
The flowers can also be used used to make an exotic jewelled risotto.
I love to eat them just as you would any salad green, or briefly sautéed in garlic, lemon and olive oil. They make an amazing salad tossed in the hot fat from crispy fried lardons, along with a handful of croutons and a tablespoon of chopped chives, finely chopped red onion, fresh basil, shaved parmesan, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, lardons or bacon bits, pears, walnuts, apples, hardboiled eggs and basically anything else anything else that sounds delicious!

On the 20 February 1816, Rossini premiered the famous opera Il Barbiere de Siviglia.An account from the time tells us that the composer raced through his pre-performance dissertation to plunge into a detailed and lengthy description of a new recipe for a salad that was evidently known by the name of the famous composer.It is not clear what the recipe composed of but one source cites dandelions as the main ingredient.
Rossini was the greatest example of a man who could have become a celebrated gourmet if only his musical genius had not eclipsed his gastronomic talents. Biographies of Rossini, half fact and half legend, abound in gastronomical anecdotes.An early account recalls how he enjoyed the taste of the wine served at mass.
Salad Rossini With Mustard Dressing
I have found many variations on this much emulated salad but they all substitute rocket for the dandelion leaves

1 bunch curly endive or chicory leaves, washed and drained
1 bunch watercress, washed and drained
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and drained
2 papayas
1 stalk celery, sliced

2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
2 egg yolks, well beaten
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice

Combine mustard and egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Mix in olive oil and lemon juice, blending well. 

Spin or towel-dry greens and tear into bite-sized pieces. Reserve 1/3 greens; arrange remainder on 6 chilled salad plates. Slice papayas in half. Remove seeds and peel. Place 1 half on each salad plate. Arrange reserved greens over papayas. Sprinkle celery over. Drizzle each serving with Mustard Dressing.


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