Italian Dandelions

I admit it, I’m a sucker for something “new” in the seed catalogs.  I say “new” because sometimes an offering has been around for a while, but it didn’t catch my eye at the time, or I wasn’t interested right then.  Last winter, while absorbing the details of one of my favorite catalogs, Territorial Seed Company, I noticed a listing:  “Italian Dandelion:  Italiko Rossa (OP) 65 days. A colorful twist on this super performing green.  Deep, maroon-red stems set off the forest green leaves for a spicy, delightful addition to your mixed green salads.  Upright  heads keep the 10-12″ leaves nice and clean.”

Territorial’s photos aren’t the glossy, drool-over kind, but even the small square shown was enough to catch my attention.  Deep green, deeply toothed lengthy leaves with dark, dark burgundy stems and veining presented a glamorous version of the common weed.  Now, I should mention here that I am a lover of dandelion greens in salads, wilted with just a bit of bacon and/or onion, or wilted a bit more with the addition of diced boiled potatoes and hard boiled eggs to the bacon and onion.  I grew up eating dandelion greens, and later added butter-fried dandelion blossoms (dipped in beaten egg and then cracker crumbs before frying) to our spring menu.

So, feeling a bit foolish at ordering a “weed,” and slightly more idiotic at actually planting dandelion, when at that time there were thousands flourishing just outside the potager’s fence, a small triangular bed was sown.  Of course, they germinated quickly and just as fast reached a decent size.  Italian Dandelion  Besides the gorgeous burgundy stems, the obvious difference was their more upright growth, which was nice because they stayed cleaner.  Having an abundance of spinach, various lettuces and other salad greens meant that they weren’t harvested often…a few leaves added to this salad or that.  And because the leaves are long, 10-12″ it doesn’t take many to make a salad.  They did keep their quality even through the hot weeks of summer, staying pretty, colorful, and bug-free.  And then came the surprise!  One of the plants decided to produce a flower stalk!  I assumed it would be a typical, bright yellow puff-away dandelion bloom, but I was shocked to see an abundance of pale blue flowers.  Italian dandelion bloom  It’s not a dandelion, it’s a chicory!!! (Cichorium intybus) And still a weed, whose relatives grow along roadsides and waysides in Indiana and elsewhere despite being mowed, sprayed or whatever.  But, as soon as I realized it was a chicory, my mind flew to the many lovely dishes I’ve had in Italy, especially “Fave e cicoria.”  Already I hear you chuckling, you oft-time readers who know my dismal attempts to produce enough fava beans for a meal, and you are justified.  Indiana weather is just not conducive to growing great fava beans (but I will keep trying!)  However, the vision of “Fave e cicoria” kept niggling, and there was that beautiful chicory, just begging to be used.  So I improvised, and while not exactly what I’ve had in Italy, it was pretty darn tasty and I’ll definitely make it again and again.  It dand recipe  In case you have chicory in your garden (or growing as a weed!) and want to try it, here’s my version:  Put a kettle of lightly salted water on to boil.  Wash a bunch (a large handful )It dand cleaned of chicory and cut off the bottom 2-3″ of “empty” stems (where there is no green leaf material.  These were a bit chewy even after cooking, so eliminate them.)  Add leaves to boiling water & boil three minutes.  Drain and allow to cool a bit.  Using kitchen shears, cut leaves randomly a few times to make more bite-sized pieces.  Place in serving bowls.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet with 2 T. olive oil, saute 3/4 c. finely diced carrots; 1 stalk celery, finely diced; 1 medium onion, finely diced; and 2 cloves minced garlic.  Add a bay leaf and cover with a lid so vegetables get very soft, but not browned.  When all is softened, add 2 cans butter beans, drained.  Return cover and cook until beans are thoroughly hot, adding a bit more olive oil if needed.  Remove bay leaf and mash beans with a potato masher, or put in food processor to puree, if desired.  Adjust for salt and pepper.  Spoon beans over chicory leaves, drizzle with a good olive oil, and sprinkle with chili pepper.  Serve with crusty bread.  Enjoy!

I’ll definitely also keep growing Italian Dandelion.  A quick search on the web indicates that it is an annual, although there were varying opinions.  I’ll leave my plants to see if they winter over, but also plan to seed a small patch, just in case.  At this time, in the heat of August, there aren’t as many options in the potager for salad greens.  Lots of cabbages, and chard, but that’s about it until the recently planted lettuces and spinach provide some variety.  If for nothing else, having a tasty salad green (delicious with roasted beets) available is worth the small space it requires.


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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15 Responses to Italian Dandelions

  1. bcparkison says:

    Hehe…Guess we need to learn to read between the lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laurie Graves says:

    What a fun story! And that dish sounds scrummy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds delicious and so pretty. I’ve made greens just the way you described and they are wonderful. A couple of times, we’ve made dandelion jelly with the flowers. It’s pale yellow and tastes a lot like honey. But, it’s hard to get that many blossoms at once. I think we needed something like a half gallon.


  4. Helen says:

    I’m planning to grow chicory next year, so good to find out how I might use it apart from the flowers. I thought it was a perennial but there are of course different varieties. Very beautiful, anyway.


  5. jennerjahn says:

    I’d love to taste that recipe, Carolee. Have you considered it for our get together on the 18th?


  6. Sarah says:

    Hi Carolee
    I too came by an Italian Dandelion somehow! Was attracted by the unusual showy stems! It was a surprise that it grew so huge! Well, I just left it there in admiration and wondered what would happen next as it appeared to be going to seed, when to my delight yesterday the first two blue blooms showed up! They lasted a day. Two more today. Would be fun if more flowers open at once!
    Sarah (UK)


    • carolee says:

      If you let it go, mine definitely flowered like a chicory with lots of blue flowers at once. However, it did not survive our winters, nor, surprisingly did it self-seed as chicory does here. It was a fun crop to grow, and if I had more space, I’d grow it every year just for a few leaves for salads, and its pretty blue flowers. Hope youhave a great season!


  7. Linda Showman says:

    Hello, Is this the same type chicory roots that can be used for coffee?


  8. John. V. says:

    Hi Carolee!
    I had to laugh about your great blog about Italian Dandelion. Mostly about what a “discovery” it was. I ordered some from Baker Creek Seed. Seed. Growers love me because I order more than I can plant and it just seems like a good idea at the time in December, January, or even in February. I get pretty excited by seed catalogs and yes I do sit by the wood stove to look through them on cold winter nights. Spring can’t get here fast enough. Anyway. I ordered some Italiko Rossa 2 years ago but it ended up in my seed bucket and disappeared with the other over ordered seed and never got planted. This year I planted it because I had some space open up and why not! I was harvesting dandelion greens from the yard on occasion. I have a nice patch out back that grows in the shade of a windbreak so why not try this. I soon discovered these are the same only in the name “dandelion”. I was so glad I just happened to have some extra space to plant it. We love it. It’s in almost every salad or every combination of veggies for omelets. We even have used it in tacos. Needless to say we love it.
    I planted a 6 foot row and they are crowded. Did not bother to thin it and just grew leaves. I pick at one end and work my way down and by the time I get to the other end it’s time to start over! I have them in a raised bed that I put a frame over in the winter. Still growing! I hope it keeps going through the winter. I cover other gardens and have beets and greens, chard, kale, green onions & garlic and more. I harvest all winter so my hopes are up. It’s now on my “Have to Plant” list. Next season I plan to plant more back in the big garden and give it room to see what happens. If this years crop stops growing I just harvest the roots and garden on! I love this stuff.


    • carolee says:

      Glad you are enjoying your crop! You’ve given me some new ideas for using it. It did not winter over here Zone 5, but I didn’t give it any protection. I was surprised because normal chicory winters easily and has actually become a roadside weed throughout the state. It’s on my order again for next year, because I just love looking at it! Thanks for reading and commenting.


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