Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In Hopes of Spring Day 2: Lovely Lettuce & Corn Salad

Crisp, delightful Round, Butterhead, Bibb, or Boston lettuce; a British staple

Lettuce is, without a doubt, one of the loveliest of things. Every time I get a nice crisp head of Boston Lettuce or Romaine, or even the under-appreciated Iceberg, I can't help but feel a little bit thrilled at the basic, unadulterated beauty of it.

Yes, admittedly, my love of lettuce does have something to do with my love of all (well, most) things green. But, personal obsessions aside, I think green is a theme to cling to on the subject of Springtime. It is a symbol and sign of rebirth and renewal to me (despite some associating less pleasant emotions with it), and the types of greens you get in lettuce are the kind that make you want to run in the hills, rather than for them.

This explains why I could not resist making myself the simplest of lunches the other day when I discovered two very fresh, very yummy heads of Boston, or Butterhead here in UK, lettuce in my refrigerator. But more on that later.

While lettuce tends to have more of a summer-fall growing season here in the UK, where it is lettuce's ideal wet, cool and mild growing weather even at those times, it can be started as early as April. Having no yard or garden in my flat, sadly, I cannot dabble in the growing of lettuce the way this lucky person has, despite having actually managed to cultivate zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, and red chillies in pots in my sun room last year. But I wish I could, because I believe lettuce has all the admirable qualities of a beautiful flower with the added perk of being entirely edible. And trust me, if I had the space and time, I'd make sure I had the loveliest of rows for the loveliest of leaves.

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My Make-Believe Lettuce Garden
what it would include and why

just plucked and just washed butterhead lettuce;
lettuce in the UK usually arrives to the stores within 24 hours of picking

The Heads

Butterhead Lettuce: I buy this lettuce most often here in the UK, it being the British staple, but first came across it in Texan supermarkets under the name of "Boston Lettuce" and in those amazingly complex plastic containers which provide a mini-greenhouse for the lettuce.
I would include rows of this flower-like lettuce in my garden because of its vibrant green color and delicate leaves. Much softer than iceberg and more alive-looking too, it would provide fullness and bouncy leafiness in the form of a head.

Romaine: I grew up eating Romaine lettuce several times a week during my childhood in Texas, usually in the form of my dad's Caesar salad, which was, incidentally and appropriately, invented in Mexico, not Italy. I would include it in my garden because of its firm, crunchy leaves,which are much longer and grow much higher than the Butterhead, providing both texture, and a stronger flavor. Romaine Photo Credit.

Radicchio: (pronounced ra-dik-ee-o) I hated radicchio (a chicory, technically) the first time I tasted it in my Insalatona in Italy, despite it being drenched in vinaigrette and covered in tuna fish and fresh mozzarella. But as a more-mature adult, I've come to love it for its beautiful red color and heartiness. You can eat it served hot (grilled, sauteed, wilted) or cold in a traditional salad. Either way, it packs a mean, bitter punch that most lettuces cannot even approach.

I would include it in my garden because of its dainty roundness and surprising redness, a much needed diversion from my green-only philosophy so far. Radicchio Photo Credit.

Frisee: I love everything about this lettuce, despite the fact that I almost never use it. It's the kind of thing I usually get at restaurants and vow to buy for myself, which is exactly why I love it: it has a luxurious oddness to it that makes it less mundane and more exciting than the others. It's like the Marie Antoinette of lettuces, with its frilly, lacy leaves, and beautiful greenish-red or greenish-yellow color.
I would include it in my garden for the effect of its delicious but frivolous look. It's a head that wants to be a leaf, and I can totally dig that kind of individuality in a lettuce. Frisee Photo credit.

The Leaves

Arugula: Not only do I think this leaf lettuce is aesthetically pleasing, it carries many fond memories of first flavors in Italy, arguments over nomenclature upon my arrival to the UK (arugula vs. rocket), and provides an ingredient with a million different uses (including garnish for a great hamburger).

I would include Arugula in my garden because of its delicacy. It bruises and breaks easily, has to be picked one leaf at a time (if you're dainty like me) and provides the pepperiest and strongest of flavors out there (maybe besides radicchio). Arugula Photo Credit.

Lamb's Lettuce: I discovered Lamb's Lettuce (what a great, pastoral name, huh?) one otherwise uneventful day of shopping at my local Waitrose (the pre-credit crunch supermarket). It's the kind of diminuitive piece of greenery that makes you want to run home and throw some olive oil and garlic in the pan immediately. But is also makes the most delicious of salads despite not having a particularly distinct flavor. What I like about it is that I feel like a little lamb chewing on some lettuce whenever I eat it - it's small and fits perfectly in your mouth in the little leafy bunches it naturally creates.
Lamb's Lettuce Photo Credit.

That's reason enough to include it, no?

Some Final Historical & Technical points of interest:

- Lettuce is native to Central Asia (who knew?)

- Lettuce is a member of the Asteraceae or "Daisy" family, linking it to Artichokes and Sunflowers

- Lettuce, the word, comes
from the Latin Lactuca sativa: "lac" meaning "milk" based on the sometimes milky substance that comes from lettuce when squeezed

- Rumor has it that the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar once erected a monument to Romaine lettuce, believing it had healed him of an ailment

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Lovely Lettuce & Corn Salad

Serves 2

It is almost laughable to me to try to give a recipe for this salad because it is so ridiculously simple and based almost entirely upon whim and random availability. I think fresh corn and lettuce make a delightful combination, and have thought so since one beautiful summer afternoon in the Danish countryside when I was served a similar salad with small pieces of chopped ham and cheese in it.

This is my take on that salad, ostensibly leaving the ham out but, in true omnivore style, throwing it back in when I serve the salad with my
cheddar and bacon scones. :) And if the avocados here were generally decent, I'd probably add one of those in too.


1/2 small can corn drained, or fresh corn kernels, lightly blanched and cooled
1 head Boston (or Round) Lettuce
1 ripe avocado, roughly chopped (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste


1. Wash, spin or dry, and tear (not chop!) the lettuce and place in a salad bowl and add the corn and avocado.

2. Mix the lemon juice and olive oil until well-combined in a ramekin.
Just before serving, pour over the salad and toss lightly, seasoning with salt and black pepper.

NB:If you have included the avocado, do not over-mix as the salad will become soggy and covered in avocado-y stuff.

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  1. Looks so pretty and awfully yummers. Come ma'e me some!!! :)

  2. Great post, I liked the leaves review. This salad would have gone great with my artichoke and lemon pasta I had last night - thanks for sharing. But there is always next time

    PS - I learned after rereading my comment on your post yesterday that I must really cut back on my caffine.

  3. I can picture your lettuce garden already! It took a long time before I came to appreciate a green salad but now, it is often our main dinner meal (with a few heartier additions, natch!) Boston/Butterhead is our current favorite and I love arugula although I've been using it more as a topping/garnish rather than as a straight salad. The others (except lamb's lettuce which is new to me) I've tasted only as part of 'spring mixes' only but would like to try them on their own.