The Sussex Little Gems that are grown over in Arundel have become more robust and dense as they have been left to develop and grow. Lettuce during the winter becomes sweeter as they have longer to release their natural sugars – and they are surprisingly tolerant of cold weather.
So our Little Gems are not so little now (Nick brought one home the other day – see this pic). We still call them Gems although they are probably closer to a cross between a Romaine and a Butterhead…ie fairly soft and fleshy but with a crisper stem.
Around a thousand years ago, Lettuce was boiled up as a narcotic to help poor old farmers through their winter months, no doubt. So whilst we are not claiming your lettuce is hallucinogenic…it is a comfortingly soothing veg and certainly not just a salad veg.
The first pic in this post, shows Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Spicy Pork served in a lettuce boat – a light alternative to pitta bread and still complimenting spicy flavours and easy on calories for the upcoming party season.
But, his idea of serving as a gratin with pasta is warming, filling and likely to go unnoticed by those who aren’t keen on hot salad veg.
Proof positive that lettuce doesn’t have to be unforgiving rabbit food. This is a lovely, greedy way to eat a big plateful of veg. Serves four.
3 hearts of lettuce, around 500g altogether
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
150g unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into small pieces
3 bunches spring onions
100g baby peas or frozen petits pois
3 tbsp double cream (optional)
100g coarse breadcrumbs
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Trim the bases off the lettuces, then cut them horizontally into 5cm-thick chunks. Put these in a large bowl with the oil and some salt and pepper, toss and transfer to a shallow oven dish around 28cm x 22cm. Roast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through, until the lettuce is wilted, its stalks tender, and its leaves lightly coloured.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for a few minutes until starting to colour.
Trim and wash the spring onions, slice them on the diagonal into chunky, 2cm pieces, add to the bacon pan, cook gently for five minutes, until tender, and season.
If using fresh peas, cook them lightly in salted boiling water until tender – only a minute or two for little baby peas. If using frozen, put them in a colander and pour over a mug of boiling water. In either case, drain and add to the bacon pan.
When the lettuce comes out of the oven, heat the grill to medium. Spoon the bacon mix over the lettuce, leaving a good amount of fat in the pan, and pour on the cream, if using. Add the breadcrumbs to the frying pan, stir so they absorb the butter, then scatter over the lettuce. Grill for a few minutes, until golden and crisp on top, and serve at once.