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GREENS WITH ENVY: A GUIDE TO SEASONAL GREENS
THE Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1906, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, rejoiced that salads, which "but a few years since seldom appeared on the table," were "now made in an endless variety of ways." Fannie herself would probably be amazed at the sheer number of our current choices.
LOOK for seasonal greens with sparkling fresh leaves without bruising or wilting. Store salad greens, unwashed, loosely wrapped in paper towels and then in plastic bags or wrap, and refrigerate for up to 5 days. As needed, thoroughly wash and dry all greens including, for utmost safety, greens that come prewashed and dried. If desired, washed and dried greens can be rolled in toweling and crisped in refrigerator for several hours before being dressed just before serving. According to Harold McGee's evidence in The Curious Cook, there is no basis for the adage that tearing greens is superior to cutting them with a knife.
SOME of the more popular greens, along with their aliases and more salient characteristics, include:
ARUGULA, ALSO CALLED ROCKET, RUGULA, ROQUETTE, OR ROCKET CRESS: An unmistakable relative of the cabbage with a pungent, slightly peppery, nutty, and sometimes bitter taste.
BELGIAN ENDIVE: Ivory colored, delicately bitter, crisp.
BIBB, OR LIMESTONE, LETTUCE: Crispy leaves, small heads.
BUTTER, OR BOSTON, LETTUCE: Loose-leafed; delicate taste and texture.
CHICORY, CURLY FRISÉE, OR CURLY ENDIVE: Green, feathery leaves;slightly bitter.
DANDELION GREENS: Tangy, flavorful leaves.
ESCAROLE: Heavier than chicory, with less frilly leaves, wide ribs, and a tougher texture but a tender heart.
ICEBERG LETTUCE: An all-purpose, bland-tasting lettuce that goes in and out of fashion but is unbeaten for its combination of sturdiness, year-round availability, and crunch.
LEAF LETTUCE, RED-LEAF LETTUCE, GARDEN LETTUCE: Tender, curly, delicate leaves that wilt quickly.
MÂCHE, ALSO CALLED CORN SALAD, LAMB'S LETTUCE, OR FIELD LETTUCE: A tangy dark-green rosette of leaves with a mild but stimulating flavor; delicious with cooked beets.
MESCLUN: A mix of greens that provide a bouquet of flavors, textures, tastes, and levels of crunch.
MIZUNA: A member of the Asian mustard family; silver and green leaves add texture and delicate flavor.
ORACH: Delicate, sweet, tender leaves ranging in color from red and green to yellow.
RADICCHIO: A magenta-colored, bitter-leafed type of chicory; round Verona, tapered Treviso, and crinkly, white-striped Chiogga are most common.
ROMAINE: Crunchy midribs and dark green elongated leaves; famous in Caesar salad.
SALAD BURNET: Has the smell and taste of cucumber; once revered as a privileged member of Napoleon's daily salad, often paired with wild chicory (though he preferred dried haricot beans).
WATERCRESS: Dark green, mildly peppery, refreshing.
THESE are only a few of the possibilities; there are also red and green chards, several sorrels, spinach, various other cresses. Farmers'-market mixes are increasingly popular for their exciting, palate-provoking tastes and textures but mainly for their unpredictability: They may include red mustards, baby spinaches, pea shoots, red romaines, and anything else the farmer chooses to grow. Salad mixes from the supermarket are also gaining in favor for their ease of use and variety. These usually organic mixes of whatever is in season make salad-tossing a breeze.
These little scatterings provide that final touch of taste, texture, and color that can elevate a simple bowl of greens into a sparkling taste sensation. Other possibilities include a handful of crumbled bacon, a snowfall of feta, slivers of tasty Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Sprinkle on fish salads.
2 tablespoons olive oil 1/4, cup capers, drained and rinsed
IN A MEDIUM SKILLET over medium heat, heat oil until hot. Blot excess moisture from capers with paper towels and add to hot oil. Cook until capers pop and turn a dark green. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.
FRIED CELERY LEAVE
Sprinkle on chicken and seafood salads.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 cup celery leaves Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
IN A MEDIUM SKILLET over medium heat, heat oil until hot. Add celery leaves and fry until crisp and golden, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Use in Caesar or other green salads.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 slices firm white bread or French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
PREHEAT OVEN to 350°F. In a large skillet, melt butter with oil and garlic over medium heat. Add bread cubes and stir until all are coated with oil mixture. Transfer to a baking sheet and spread in a single layer. Bake until lightly browned and crisp, about 20 minutes. Let cool.
BAKED GOAT CHEESE ROUNDS
Serve warm on a bed of dressed salad greens.
One 6-ounce log fresh white goat cheese
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
SLICE GOAT CHEESE into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Mix bread crumbs with herbs and spread on a sheet of waxed paper. Pour 4 tablespoons oil into a shallow bowl. Dip goat cheese into oil to coat completely, then into bread crumb mixture. Set on a tray and refrigerate for 1 hour. PREHEAT OVEN to 375°F. Spread remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil on a baking sheet with sides. Place goat cheese rounds on baking sheet and bake until a golden crust forms, about 8 minutes. Turn rounds over and bake another 3 minutes.
SWEET AND PEPPERY NUTS
Sprinkle on salads of greens and fruit, or greens and pungent cheeses such as Roquefort.
1/4, cup sugar
2 cups (8 ounces) coarsley chopped walnuts, pecans, peanuts, or almonds
1 teaspoon ground pepper or to taste
IN A LARGE nonstick skillet, heat sugar over medium heat until it begins to look moist. Add nuts and stir until nuts are hot and appear shiny and glazed. Sprinkle with pepper and turn out on a piece of waxed paper to cool.
Sprinkle on delicate greens and tomato salads.
Vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying 4 leeks, white part only, washed and thinly sliced Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
IN A SMALL, heavy saucepan, heat about 2 inches of oil to 350°F. Add leeks and fry until golden brown and frizzled. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.