Valley Bounty, June 8: Lettuce
Sweet and tender spring lettuces make delicious salads and vastly improve a lunchtime sandwich. Fresh lettuce and simple dressing are good all by themselves, but if you like a salad with fixings, think local. Radishes, sweet hakurei turnips, young carrots and hothouse cucumbers are all available now. Find lettuce at farm stands and farmers’ markets or ask your favorite retailer for local lettuce.
Creamy Green Herb Dressing
This is a version of a “green goddess” dressing. I usually make it with some combination of parsley, basil, and dill, but chives are good and plentiful this time of year. Put in quite a lot of herbs so the dressing is green.
You could probably make this by hand chopping the herbs and mixing with a whisk, but a food processor or stick blender makes it very easy. This recipe is inexact, but it’s very forgiving—just experiment with quantities until you like how it tastes and how thick or thin it is. Traditionally, it’s made with mayonnaise and sour cream, but I make mine with goat cheese and yogurt.
Herbs—parsley, basil, dill, chives, tarragon—whatever you like or have on hand
Garlic, if you want
Fresh goat cheese or chevre
Yogurt or sour cream
A little mayonnaise, if you like the flavor
Salt and pepper to taste
Zuzz it all up and then thin with vinegar—I recommend the basil-infused vinegar you’ll find in “preserving tips,” below—or lemon juice. Add a little more of this or a little more of that until you like it. Pour on your salad.
You can’t preserve lettuce, but luckily local salad greens are available year round these days. You can, however, preserve the flavors of summer on your salad by making flavored vinegars. My favorite is a purple basil vinegar I learned to make from Mary Ellen Warchol at Stockbridge Herb Farm in South Deerfield. It’s become my standard, day-in, day-out vinegar for salad dressing (check their events page for upcoming cooking classes featuring garlic and flowers (not together!)). Plan now to put some opal basil in your garden or buy a couple of big bunches at the farmers’ market later in the season, and you can make this simple vinegar, too. Here’s how to do it:
Fill a big jar with opal basil. If you are short on purple basil, you can add some green as well, but the purple gives the vinegar a lovely color. Cover with vinegar—I used white balsamic vinegar at Mary Ellen’s suggestion, and it is delicious, but I am also experimenting with including some local apple cider vinegar from Apex Farm. Shake occasionally and steep for several weeks, until the basil has faded and the vinegar is purple. When you get around to it, strain out the basil and pour vinegar into bottles. It will keep on the shelf.