I’ve never known fields of wildflowers in Colorado in July. I didn’t grow up with visions of lush forests blooming over the foothills in my backyard. And never in my most vibrant memories do I remember thistles as tall as I was, grasses so long I could hide in them. This Colorado summer is something else all together.
Verdant is the only word I can use to describe it, and I’ve said it a lot. And in unexpected, and overtly casual capacities too. I know it makes me sound like a verbose jerk, but I just can’t think of another way to describe what we’re enjoying now. I blurted it out on a bike ride the other day as we were rolling down Sunshine Canyon, admiring the healthy, deep forests, the waving grasses that cover the hills, and the vines and ferns and flowers blooming everywhere you look. Typically, by now, the grass is turning brown and dry heat fills the canyons, threatening wildfires, but not this year. “I’ve never seen these mountains so….verdant, dudes.” Is basically what came out of my mouth. Headslap. It’s so awesome.
As if summer in Boulder wasn’t divine already, and as if I wasn’t excited enough to be home for a few weeks after an insane amount of travel, the leafy, fresh vibe that’s spreading over our little town is intoxicating and I’d be ok if every summer from now until the end of my lifetime was this blissful. I’ll never complain about the thunderstorms that roll in late in the afternoons because they make big bike rides and hikes followed by big snacks and big naps all the more attractive and logical.
The days go a little something like this now; wake up with the sun to walk Gunner on the trails before they heat in the sun. Drink coffee, enjoy the cool. Polish off tasks around the house, check in on email, then check out and play in the mountains; on long bike rides and big hikes in the mountains. Up all the canyons, exploring all the dirt roads, stopping for ice-cold water and popsicles in tiny local stores as we go. By the time I’m home in the afternoon it’s well past time to eat something satisfying and entirely too hot to cook inside so the grill has been fired every night. Around 6:30pm the charcoal is started and I throw on whatever happens to be on hand…and there’s a lot on hand; all this rain means bushels of tomatoes, peas and plums, peaches, and cherries more juicy than I’ve ever had in Colorado. The greens are crisper. The fruits are bursting with sweetness. And the dandelion greens are taller than they’ve ever been, but they’re too good not to use. I was surprised to realize it as the breads were grilling and the smells of charring pesto were rising into the evening, but this was one of the more memorable meals – to prepare, cook, and eat – I’ve had lately, all thanks to this dandelion + basil pesto made perfect by the randomness that was just on hand.
I always come home from Italy a bit more mindful about how I use ingredients in my kitchen, and how many ingredients we as Americans feel we have to have in every dish we make. The Italians have a very simple approach to meals: prosciutto, melon, arugula, burata. Done. Ragù is a short list of the best, freshest ingredients. The tomatoes taste so good, you don’t want to mask their flavor with anything else — you literally want to just eat the tomato as it is. The Italians rarely head to the store to pick up an ingredient for a recipe. Because, pshhh, its all in the pantry already. Or its growing in the garden outside. Or, do you even need it anyway? Dandelion greens aren’t something that I buy on the regular and they aren’t much on their own, but they were right there at the market the other day, so plentiful, and the brightest green of all that was on offer. So I brought them home instead of my standard spring greens + kale to see what would come of them. A salad with peaches, fresh cheese and a drizzle of maple + lemon came to mind, but then I also had this basil and the inevitable happened. And what a happy accident it was.
The trick to enjoying dandelion greens is in trimming them; their roots are rather tangly, and the dirt that clings to them rather tenacious. But they’re worth a bit of work to clean and prep because then they’re ready for anything. Dandelion leaves are a bit tougher than lettuce leaves, and a smidge more bitter making them a nice offset to sweet fruits, and making them ideal for sautéing with garlic and olive oil….or making pesto of course.
The recipe here is an adaptation on David Lebovitz’s summer favorite, but the flatbread recipe is my own favorite, and all of its quite easy. For the flatbread, you’ll need to have a bit of extra forethought to make your own (but if you use a store-bought pizza dough this would also be divine.) I’ve heard folks express some intimidation about grilling raw dough; have no fear. Over a nice hot flame the dough crisps right up and there is nothing that smells better than charred bread. The dough itself doesn’t need much working and you can either let it rise over days or in the same day, and cooking it takes only a couple of minutes.
For the pesto, just toss everything into your food processor or blender and mix it up. Voila. When you’re ready to grill the flatbread, I suggest porting your dough, pesto, and cheese outside to the grill, spreading the pesto and spreading the cheese on before you pull the flatbread from the grill; this allows the cheese to melt and the flavors to meld. A little sprinkle of togarashi or chili pepper is a great little flourish at the end. We had lots of leftover pesto that I’ve tossed into rice bowls, eaten with raw carrots and crackers, and mixed into homemade pasta last night. You can also freeze the extra for a time when greens and the brightness of summer are a thing of the recent past.
I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did around here, and hope that your summer is flying by in flashes of primary colors, smells of charred peaches/steaks/marshmallows and sunscreen, sounds of beer bottles cracking open, swimming pool splashes, and the good sun on your face. xo – L
- 6 ounces washed and cleaned dandelion leaves
- 6 ounces basil leaves, destemmed and cleaned
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 shallots, diced
- 3 small green onions, cleaned and trimmed
- 6 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 1/2 ounces Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- olive oil (for brushing)
- togarashi or chili flakes for finishing
- Put about one-third of the dandelion greens and basil in the food processor or blender with the olive oil and chop for a minute, scraping down the sides. Add the remaining greens and the green onions in two batches, until they’re all finely chopped up. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then add the shallots , pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan, and process until everything is a smooth puree. Taste and add more salt if necessary. If you think its too thick, you can cut it a bit with olive oil or water.
- The pesto can be refrigerated in a jar for up to four days. To prevent the top layer from darkening (which is natural,) you can pour a thin layer of olive oil on top.You can freeze the pesto for up to two months.
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 3 cups warm water. Add the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and mix with your fingertips until a shaggy dough forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes in a warm place.
- Next, sprinkle the salt over dough, then add the sour cream; knead until well incorporated and dough pulls away from sides of bowl and holds together in a loose, wet ball, about 5 minutes (dough will be very soft and wet; lightly moisten your hands to prevent sticking if needed). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Once the dough is risen, knead an additional 4–5 times to deflate - just lightly with your hands, no need to mash it down. Just play with it a bit to get the extra air bubbles out. If you plan to make flatbread the same day, let the dough stand at room temperature until doubled in volume, 3–4 hours (the warmer and more humid your kitchen is, the faster it will rise). Chill for 1 hour before grilling to make it easier to handle. Alternatively, if you plan to make flatbread later, you can cover the dough with plastic and chill for up to 2 days. (Dough will develop in flavor and continue to rise slowly in refrigerator.)
- When you're ready to grill, build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or heat a gas grill to high. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Generously flour a work surface. Working with 1 or 2 portions at a time (depending on how many flatbreads will fit on your grill), roll out dough or press with your hands into a 1/4-inch-thick shape. (It doesn't have to be perfectly round.)
- Brush grill rack with oil. Grill flatbreads until lightly charred on one side and no longer sticking to grill, 2–3 minutes. Using tongs, turn flatbreads and grill until cooked through, 1–2 minutes longer. Add desired toppings and serve warm.