About the time of the emperor Domitian (A.D. 81–96), it became fashionable among the Roman elite to serve a lettuce salad as an appetizer before the first course, a custom that we practice to this day. Was the lettuce salad intended to act as an antidote to the passions that subsequent courses of meat might inflame? This may have been one of the medical purposes of the original leafy appetizer. Certainly, by the Roman era, lettuce had already reached Italy with fascinating baggage — cultural, medical, intellectual, and religious. Of all the European garden vegetables, its history is one of the most colorful.
Lettuce was first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, and since it played a role in their religious rituals, they have left ample records in the form of wall paintings and tomb reliefs as to the nature of the lettuce they grew, some of the oldest images dating from as early as 2680 B.C. This was a variety of lettuce about 30 inches tall, like a giant head of romaine lettuce with pointed leaves. Egypt perfected the cultivation of the tall or upright lettuces now known as cos or romaine, and this cultural knowledge was passed to the Greeks. The Romans in turn acquired lettuce culture from the Greeks, referring to the new plant as lactuca (which means “milk”) in reference to the white juice exuded by the stems. The word lactuca is now used by botanists to represent the genus to which lettuce belongs.
The Roman agriculturist Columella (A.D. 50) mentioned several varieties of lettuce, among them Caecilian (both red and green), Cappadocian, Baetican, and Cyprian. Some of the varieties we know today may descend from these old sorts. Columella and other writers who discussed lettuce were quick to point out the Romans ate lettuce raw only when it was very young; otherwise they cooked it like spinach and served it with an oil and vinegar dressing. The custom of cooking lettuce, or poaching it to be more accurate, was continued in many areas of post-Roman Europe, but in nearly every case, this was done only with the large cos types. Otherwise, the oil and vinegar dressing was poured hot over the lettuce, another serving method practiced by the Romans.
From: Mother Earth News
Spring is the best time to explore the wide varieties of greens available from your farm, whether they're mature greens, baby greens, or even younger microgreens. Not only are they lovely to look at, they also vary wildly in flavor and texture. Bibb or Boston lettuce, for example, has pale green, soft cup-leafed leaves that are delicate and buttery, while mache has tender rosette-shaped leaves with a mild flavor. Crisp romaine is ideal for Caesar salads and has slightly bitter long, narrow leaves with thick ribs; and leaf lettuce has loose open heads with ruffly tops with a sweet mild flavor coming in both red and green varieties. Compared to their more mature counterparts, baby greens and microgreens are delicate and tender—ideal for eating in raw in salads and sandwiches, and in the case of microgreens, garnishing finished dishes. Mature lettuce is best served in salads - both raw and slightly wilted.
While all lettuce varieties are best known for their role in your favorite salads, a seasonal abundance of greens may just warrant some experimentation with these exceptionally diverse flavors in your kitchen! Here are some fun ideas: Lettuce soup is creamy and delicious, and can be served warm or chilled. Simple lettuce wraps, filled with tuna/egg/tofu salad, taco fixings, or the filling of your choice make a nice light summery meal. Heartier lettuce varieties can be grilled and served with a warm dressing. Nutritious greens make a great addition to green smoothies and try adding some lettuce into your herb pesto next time. Many Asian cultures incorporate lettuces into curries and stir-fries at the very end of the sauté. Surprise your friends at the next community potluck with these fun ideas!
Remove any crushed or rotting leaves before you store your lettuce. We recommend storing your greens in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer with the humidity set to high. Don't wash until you're ready to use.
Mixed Green Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
- 1⁄2 cup sour cream
- 1⁄4 cup roughly chopped chives
- 1⁄4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp. tarragon vinegar
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. finely chopped tarragon
- 2 anchovy filets
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lightly packed cups torn head lettuce of your choice
1. Using a vegetable peeler, strip long ribbons from the carrot; transfer to a bowl of ice water to let curl.
2. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, parsley, vinegar, lemon juice, tarragon, anchovies, and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor; purée until smooth.
3. Drain carrots and toss together in a bowl with lettuce mix. Add some of the dressing to greens and gently toss. (Reserve remaining dressing for another use.)