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Wednesday, June 11, 2008 06:10 am

Let us celebrate lettuce

Buy locally, and savor the wide variety of flavors

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Untitled Document The lovely young lettuces of late spring and early summer are gorgeous enough to use as ornamentals, and some wouldn’t even be out of place in floral arrangements. Colors range from palest celadon and chartreuse to darker shades of green. Some are speckled with red — one variety is named Freckles — and some varieties, such as Lolla Rosso, are a shiny dark deep burgundy, only paling to green at the base and heart. Some have deeply ruffled leaves; others, such as deer’s tongue (of which there are both speckled and plain varieties), are serrated, rounded, lobed, or pointed. From spicy arugula to milder leaf lettuces, the different varieties have subtle flavor nuances, but all — even the red-hued types — have an indefinable taste of green. Yes, I’ve said it before (and undoubtedly will again): Grocery produce, though welcome in winter, can’t begin to compare with its freshly picked, locally seasonal counterparts. That’s as true of lettuce as it is of corn, tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches. I love the peppery taste of arugula, but the bag of baby arugula I bought in the store for an Easter salad in March barely had more flavor than iceberg lettuce. It was something green to eat and provided a raw component to the meal, but there just wasn’t any there there. Speaking of iceberg lettuce, it’s worth looking for farm-fresh heads of what I think of as “real” iceberg. Mass-produced grocery iceberg isn’t highly regarded by most chefs, except perhaps as a crunchy topping for tacos. It has some fiber but little else in the way of either taste or nutrition. Seasonal small-crop iceberg lettuce is a different ball of lettuce altogether. Usually smaller, about the size of a softball, the heads are less tightly packed but packed full of so much more flavor that you’ll have trouble believing they’re the same variety. At least one vendor at the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market, Garrick Veenstra, had them at his stand last year.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine@comcast.net.
Sure, there are good bottled salad dressings available, but seasonal spring and summer lettuces deserve special treatment. This recipe is a longtime favorite. The sour cream helps bind the oil and vinegar together and adds a light creaminess without making it as heavy as a mayonnaise-based dressing.
Creole Dressing 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 2 tablespoons sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 5 tablespoons red-wine vinegar 4 tablespoons sour cream 1 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (more or    less to taste) 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf 1 tablespoon minced garlic (using green or spring    garlic makes this extra-special)
In a medium bowl or jar, blend together the mustard, sugar, and salt until no lumps remain. Add the vinegar and whisk until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Let stand for at least an hour before using to allow the flavors to combine. Keeps for a week or more, refrigerated; shake or stir before using. This recipe also makes a good poppyseed dressing: Just substitute 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds for the parsley, use cider vinegar instead of red-wine vinegar, and use a vegetable oil such as canola instead of olive oil. You may also wish to add another tablespoon of sugar.
These pecans are good to eat as a snack, but I especially like them on salad with the accompanying dressing. They’re easy to make and keep well in an airtight container, so I often double the recipe.
Spicy Caramelized Pecans 1 cup pecan halves One egg white 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (Prudhomme’ s Cajun    Magic, Emeril’s Essence, another good brand, or    your own blend) 2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
Beat the egg white until it begins to froth. Add the Cajun seasoning mix and sugar, then stir to combine. Stir in the pecans. Turn the pecans onto a greased foil- or parchment-lined pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and stir well, making sure that the nuts don’t stick to the pan or each other. Return the pecans to the oven, checking every five minutes, until the coating is dry and the nuts are toasted. Cool to room temperature. If this is too much spice for you, the amount can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Another possibility is to make herbed pecans by substituting 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (not ground), 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon salt for the Cajun seasoning.
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