Our illegal parkway garden has got off to a slow start this season due to low seed germination rates. We’ve compensated with a trip to the Hollywood farmer’s market to pick up some six-packs of seedlings. One plant we made sure to get is Cichorium intybus, known in Italian as “cicoria” or chicory, but somehow, in the case of leaf chicory, mistranslated as “Italian dandelion,” probably because the leaves resemble the common dandelion weed, Taraxacum officinale (a relative which is also edible).
Both Cichorium intybus and its weedy cousin share a powerfully bitter taste that took our supermarket weaned taste buds some time to get used to the first time we tasted this plant. Changing the cooking water a few times if you boil Italian dandelion is one way to deal with the bitterness, but we prefer to just throw it together with some fat in a frying pan, such as olive oil and/or pancetta. We also add some hot pepper flakes for a nice hot counter-punch. Italian dandelion makes a good companion to balsamic vinegar marinated pork or game (squirrels perhaps–they’ve been stealing our lemons!).
The big taproot this perennial plant has means that it can bust through crappy soil. The bitter root can also be ground up to make a coffee substitute or flavor additive. Never having tried this we’re a bit sceptical, especially since it lacks caffeine, but it’s worth an attempt this coming year.
Since we purchased seedlings we have no idea what cultivar we’re growing, but seeds are available from Seeds from Italy, which has an astonishing number of varieties.