When the days heat up, kitchen thoughts tend to stray towards “ cool and crispy.”
HEADS UP: there are two large categories of lettuce, head lettuce and leaf lettuce. Until recent years, the most popular head lettuce was iceberg. And why, might you ask, is this green-on-the-outside, white-on the inside called “iceberg?” No, it has nothing to do with the Titanic. When iceberg was first commercialized on a large scale, it had to be covered with ice so it would not wilt during shipping. There, now you know.
GREEN, RED, WHITE, WHATEVER: Lettuce leaves are generally green, but they also come in red, white, pale yellow and faintly purple. Whichever color you choose, be sure the leaves are glossy, firm and crisp. For head lettuce, be sure the heart is dense (the leaves should be closely packed) and that the head feels heavy for its size. Leaf lettuce should have firm, crisp leaves that have a clearly defined rib down the center. Always avoid dull-looking, rusty, soggy or yellowing leaves.
THE GREENER THE LETTUCE: generally the more vitamins and minerals it contains. Most varieties have a fair amount of folic acid (and important B vitamin) and all are low in calories and high in water (we’re talking about 10 calories per 8 ounces of lettuce). Deep green lettuces, such as romaine or Boston, are higher in nutrients then the paler varieties, such as iceberg.
FIRE AND ICE: lettuce is usually eaten raw, but a classic French garnish is a light sauté of shredded (chiffonade, for all the culinarians in the audience) lettuce in butter. So, wow the folks with “petit pois a la francaise,” baby peas with a garnish of sautéed lettuce. Lettuce can be quickly braised in vegetable or chicken stock and placed on top of a cold salad for a “fire and ice” creation. Toss chopped lettuce leaves into soup right before serving — the broth will cook the leaves. Lettuce gives a light, refreshing flavor to soups. Add interest to cold lettuce salads by combining several types of lettuce (bagged, ready-to-use lettuces are great for this).
Petits Pois a la Francaise
3 cups freshly shelled or frozen peas
1 cup finely shredded head lettuce, such as Iceberg
1/2 cup chopped green onions (white part only)
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Wash fresh peas, if necessary. If using frozen peas, do not thaw. Add peas to a large skillet, without heat. Add all remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Put heat on low, cover, and simmer until peas are just tender, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.