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Fresh Picks: Young Lettuces

Each week, we'll tell you the freshest thing to taste from Colorado farmers and chefs. 

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We hope you’re hungry!

This summer, we’re highlighting a must-eat-right-now ingredient every week. This week? Young lettuces, which are an easy way to freshen up any dish.

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Lettuce | Family: Asteraceae

From the Farmer: “Young lettuces taste of health and growth,” says Anne Cure, of Cure Organic Farm in Boulder County. “In the spring, [the leaves] have this taste you haven’t had all winter long.” Baby greens are also perfectly crisp and sweet, not yet tough from the heat. This is especially true this year, as our cool spring weather has yielded an extra sweet crop. After harvest, Cure suggests keeping it simple: “With a little lemon, maybe a little salt—they don’t need much.”

From the Chef: Troy Guard, who uses One Town Farm’ lettuces at several of his restaurants, loves the early crops because “they’re plump, crisp, crunchy, and refreshing.”

Good for You: True, lettuces are low in calories but they’re also sources of fiber, calcium, iron, and antioxidants. Conventional wisdom says the darker the leaf, the more concentrated the nutrients.

At the Market: With hundreds of varieties of lettuces (and just as many peak harvest times), there’s almost always a fresh crop coming in. Look for crisp, brightly colored leaves and avoid lettuces that are wilted or discolored. When you get home, gently wash the vegetable to remove any lingering dirt. Then pat it dry (or run through the salad spinner) and gently wrap in a clean dishtowel. Store inside a plastic bag in the fridge for several days.

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Around Town: As Anne Cure says, “When the first tender greens come in, you’ll see everyone with them at lunch.” Keep your eyes out for the market-fresh salad, or simply head to TAG Restaurant for One Town Farm’s greens with carrot, daikon, cucumber, sunflower seeds, hearts of palm, and soy dressing. Looking beyond the salad, Guard serves the grilled opah with young lettuce, roasted nectarine, and vindaloo sauce.

In Your Kitchen: Tossing your lettuces into a salad (panzanella!) is a no brainer, but there are more ways to pep up this springy ingredient. Top a pizza with a couple handfuls, use the larger leaves as lettuce cups, build the ultimate BLT, or depending on the green, make pesto or dressing. You can also give heartier greens a quick sauté with garlic and add to pasta or farro. One recipe not to miss is Vesta Dipping Grill’s caramelized mushrooms and Pecorino (which sit on a bed of dressed greens) on page 40 of 5280: The Cookbook.

 

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