"weed" Soup

 

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.

What you will need

1/2 small yellow onion (about 2 1/2 ounces), cut into small dice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves green garlic, bulb and stalks, roughly chopped

5 ounces "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)

1/2 cup tomato sauce (preferably homemade) or, in a pinch, good quality diced tomatoes

2-3 links Italian sausage, casings removed. (Mix of hot and sweet sausage is preferred, but using just sweet is totally acceptable.)

1 quart water

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional (I suggest adding only if you are using just sweet sausage or if you like extra spice)

1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional cheese for garnish

2 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

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