Darrow M. Watt

Tossed with warm pasta, thrown on the grill - fresh, locally grown lettuces make more than just a great salad.

Elaine Johnson,  – March 27, 2006

Grilled Lettuces with Manchego

Crisp Lettuces with Asian Noodles

Spring Lettuce and Herb Salad

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):

Black-seeded Simpson
A fast-growing old-fashioned variety; has a pale-green hue.

Little Gem
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.

Stir-fried Garlic Lettuce (Shoon Chow Saang Choy)

Rustic Spring Vegetable Stew

Green RiceThese lettuces are often brilliantly colored, ranging in hue from yellow-green to bronze to deep ruby red. Their textures may be tender, thin-leaved, and crisp; thick-leafed and juicy; or even frilly. An added benefit of buying greens at a farmers’ market is that the grower is right there, ready to answer your questions about variety, texture, and taste – and sometimes to tell stories too: Bill Coleman, of Coleman Family Farms, for instance, describes his vividly chartreuse Black-seeded Simpson as “nice for a romantic dinner – it glows in the dark.”

INFO: The Downtown Santa Barbara farmers’ market (805/962-5354)


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