Wherever you are in the West this month, you'll see an inspiring range of lettuces at your local farmers' markets - shapely, colorful leaves to show off in salads, as well as lettuces sturdy enough to add to warm pasta or even throw on the grill.
Five spring lettuces to look for (below, clockwise from top left):
A fast-growing old-fashioned variety; has a pale-green hue.
Crisp and sweet like romaine, but smaller and fatter. Perfect for braising or grilling.
Its name is Spanish for "knob"; grows in tight round clusters.
A thick-leafed variety from Austria, its name is German for "speckled trout."
A French variety of red oak-leaf lettuce and one of the prettiest, with slender, deeply notched leaves tinged a reddish bronze.
At the farmers' market
At the Santa Barbara farmers' market, lettuces are especially fine: In peak season now, and as lovely as bouquets of flowers, are beauties like small, crisp Little Gem; oak leaf--shaped Brunia; maroon-speckled Forellenschluss; and Perilla, whose leaves form tidy rosettes. Like lettuce farmers in other parts of the West, Santa Barbara growers are finding an appreciative audience for diverse varieties - many of them heirlooms - that stretch our concept of what salad can be.
INFO: The Downtown Santa Barbara farmers' market (805/962-5354)