We often take lettuce for granted, the one vegetable ever-present in the refrigerator. But lettuce straight from the garden is a splendid thing. More than the flavor, texture is key, so it is freshness that defines a good head. The range of lettuces spans a vast variety with either soft buttery, or tight crisp, or long, spiky leaves, and of course, the salad mixes of colorful, bright, peppery, tender leaves.
When you bring a head of lettuce into the kitchen straight from the garden, it’s important to thoroughly wash each leaf. Set the heads in a deep bowl of ice-cold water. Unfold each leaf and check for dirt and critters (aphids, in particular); this both cleans and crisps the leaves. Then dry them in a salad spinner or by draining the leaves on a clean, dry kitchen towel. Store the washed lettuces in a plastic bag with a dampened towel. They’ll stay fresh for up to a week.
These lettuces make wonderful scoops for hummus, herbed chèvre, salmon spread or meat and vegetable pâtés. They won’t wilt under a hearty blue cheese or Caesar dressing. Some leaves are broad and sturdy enough to hold a chunk of spicy sausage or a curried lamb meatball.
Fold the most generous leaves around fillings of chicken, egg or tuna salad, or sliced meats and cheeses — just as you would a flour tortilla. Now that the growing season is in full swing, gather all its goodness into a wrap.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis writer and cooking instructor.