Even vegetables have families: meet the Compositae

By Grace Parisi
March 01, 1998

When I was a girl, my Sicilian grandmother cooked up dishes I never saw at my friends' houses: stuffed artichokes, fried cardoons, garlicky sautéed escarole and dandelions every which way, in soup, salad, pasta, even liqueur. Now I realize that my family history is tied up with another family, a botanical one--my grandmother's favorite vegetables are all members of the Compositae. The commonly eaten Compositae--including all the let- tuces, endive, chicory, radicchio, tarragon, Jerusalem artichokes, black salsify (scorzonera) and burdock--share one family trait: when cut or peeled and exposed to air, they turn brown quickly. (To avoid oxidation, rub cut or peeled artichokes, cardoons and Jerusalem artichokes with a lemon half or put them in water to which a bit of lemon juice or vinegar has been added; peel burdock and black salsify under running water, then transfer them to acidulated water.) Here are seven recipes, inspired by my grandmother's, for getting to know the Compositae.

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