When I was growing up, this soup was always a starter for our Italian American family's Easter Dinner. Unlike other families who had lamb or ham for Easter, the main course in our family was usually ravioli, homemade if my great grandmother was making dinner.
As a child, I always loved this soup. We called it dandelion soup because the greens used in the soup were always dandelions. My mother would sometimes be able to buy freshly harvested dandelion greens from her Italian butcher, but when my grandparents were alive, in the spring, they used to go foraging in meadows, looking for dandelions, so that they could make this soup.
One year when my sister was in college, she brought home a friend for Easter dinner. After tasting the soup, this friend asked what was in it. When she was told the main ingredient was dandelion leaves, she said, "I can't believe that I am eating weed soup!: The name stuck.
When I became an adult, I would make this soup at least once a year. When I lived in New York City, I never saw fresh dandelions, but usually in late March, they would make an appearance at the Union Square Greenmarket. I would buy four or five bunches of the smallest dandelion leaves I could find and make this soup. It was my ritual of welcoming spring.
Now that I live in Victoria, we have far too many, abundant dandelions in our yard. My six-year-old daughter and I forage and collect dandelion leaves, filling Ziploc bags, until we have enough to make this soup.
Spring comes late to Victoria and other than greens (and weeds!) there are not a lot of local vegetables at our farmer's markets just yet. So when I was deciding what recipe to enter in this week's contest, a variation of my family's weed soup seemed like a natural. I found lovely green garlic at my farmer's market, so I decided to add that to the soup, instead of the more traditional garlic cloves. Playing around with the soup's weed origins, I opted to make this a true foraging soup. So in addition to a generous amount of dandelion leaves, I added other wild greens, such as wild cress and nettles. A word about the dandelions: If you use dandelion leaves, look for young, very small leaves, preferably before the buds have flowered. If flowers are attached, or worse if they have already gone to seed, the soup will be very bitter in taste.
This recipe is well suited to variations. When my sister makes this soup, she uses chicken broth and roasts her garlic in the oven before adding it to the soup. My grandmother and great grandmother would make this at other times of the year and use chicories and endive instead of dandelions. I like this soup because it is rustic, and uncomplicated and has simple, clean flavors. Other than the greens and the sausage, it can be put together almost entirely with pantry ingredients. It's the perfect dish for a feast. —cookinginvictoria
6 with leftovers
1/2 small yellow onion (about 2 1/2 ounces), cut into small dice
extra virgin olive oil
cloves green garlic, bulb and stalks, roughly chopped
"weeds", such as tender young dandelion leaves, wild cress, and/or nettles. You can also use cultivated greens, such as spinach, kale, mustard, spinach, or chard. Endive or chicories also (Please ensure that they have not been treated with pesticides)
tomato sauce (preferably homemade) or, in a pinch, good quality diced tomatoes
links Italian sausage, casings removed. (Mix of hot and sweet sausage is preferred, but using just sweet is totally acceptable.)
crushed red pepper flakes, optional (I suggest adding only if you are using just sweet sausage or if you like extra spice)
freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional cheese for garnish
large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt (approximately 1/2 to 1 teaspoon) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Good quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling onto finished dish
Wash your weeds or greens. This can be a fairly time consuming process, especially if you've done your own foraging. First, with a paring knife or scissors, cut weeds off their stalks, tossing any weeds that look too big or gnarly, and trim away any brown bits. Then put weeds in a colander, rinse,.and drain them. Put a big handful of weeds in your largest kitchen bowl, and pour water over weeds. Swish weeds around with your hand. Examine the water. If there is dirt, sand or other gritty material in bottom of bowl, pour out dirty water and add fresh water, swishing weeds around again. Repeat until water is totally clear. Remove weeds and place in clean bowl. Add another handful of weeds to big bowl and repeat process of pouring water over weeds, swishing with your fingers and replacing water if dirty until all weeds have been cleaned.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice each link of sausage into four pieces, or simply pinch off balls of sausage about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Line a baking sheet with sides with aluminum foil. Place a baking rack over the foil and place pieces of sausage on the rack.Put baking pan in oven and roast for about 30 minutes, or until sausage is browned and caramelized. It usually is not necessary to turn the sausage, but you can if you wish. Remove pan from oven and turn off oven. After sausage has cooled, cut into small dice (about 1/4-1/2 inch long).
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to large saucepan or Dutch oven and warm over medium low heat. Add onions and saute until just starting to turn golden. Add green garlic and stir. When garlic begins to release its fragrance, after about 1 minute, add tomato sauce or tomatoes, sausage, and red pepper flakes, if using. When mixture begins bubbling, add water. Let cook for about 20-30 minutes, at a gentle simmer, allowing flavors to develop. Taste and add salt and pepper, if you think they are needed. In small bowl, whisk cheese and eggs until blended.
If weeds are large, roughly chop and add them to soup, keeping heat at a simmer. Let cook for about five minutes, then slowly add egg mixture, whisking gently to combine. Cook soup for about five more minutes.
If weeds are small and tender, first add egg mixture slowly to soup, whisking gently to incorporate. Then add weeds. Let cook at a gentle simmer for about five minutes total cooking time.
Soup is finished cooking when weeds are tender but still colored a vibrant green and eggs resemble creamy, thin strands. Taste again to see if flavors are balanced, and, if needed, add additional salt and pepper. If possible, let soup sit for 10 minutes, covered, off heat.
Ladle into soup bowls, and shower with additional cheese. Drizzle olive oil on top. Serve with plenty of crusty bread for sopping up broth. Enjoy with a glass of wine!
In 2009, after living more than twenty years in NYC, my husband, young daughter and I packed up our lives and embarked on a grand adventure, moving to Victoria, B.C. There are many things that we miss about New York (among them ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh ravioli and New York bagels), but, I have to admit, that living in the Pacific Northwest has been pretty amazing food-wise. Now we have a yard with plum and apple trees, a raspberry and strawberry patch and a Concord grape arbor. I have a vegetable and herb garden, so I can grow at least some of our food. And we have an amazing farmer's market a block from our house.
I love cooking (and eating) seasonally and locally. And it's been very rewarding introducing my daughter to cooking and eating, and teaching her where our food comes from.