Hurry up and eat! The weather is hot, hot, hot, and the lettuce is about to bolt!
Now is the time of summer when we gardeners need myriad ways to use lettuce. Even my green-leaf-gobbling girls are now balking at salad—which is how we tend to think of lettuce in this country: It's a salad. But, truly, it is so much more. In other cultures, it is stir fried, melted in boiling broth, even baked with cream.
This summer, a groundhog brazened his way into my salad-growing boxes, which are the planters on my back porch. Yes, you heard me: Not only have the goats been nibbling at my back-porch greens, but also a groundhog, who chomped through my snowpeas, my basil, my dill, my cilantro, and my darling little just-budding zinnias. Luckily, I have a neighbor, Farmer Up-the-Hill, who gardens on a scale that makes my vegetables look like something grown in gardens out back of my daughters' dollhouses.
Last week, Farmer Up-the-Hill shared his about-to-bolt bounty with us.
Now those are some heads of lettuce (teeheehee)
I was in a French mood. So I broke out my much-splattered copy of When French Women Cook, by Madeleine Kamman.
Great news for those of you who don't yet have your own cherished copy: This must-have classic is about to be re-issued in August with a foreword by Shirley Corriher, another of my idols. And look at the cover! Is that the most evocative cookbook cover ever? I want to be right there at that table with them.
I leafed through my cookbook and...voila! There was the perfect dish...La Soupe aux Petits Pois Frais.
Lettuce and Sweet Pea Soup
(my variation on a recipe by Madeline Kamman)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
2 leeks, minced (white only)
1 very large head or 2 small heads of Boston lettuce, cut in thin strips
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1 quart good chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup freshly shelled peas
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
some butter-fried croutons (made by tearing day-old bread into chunks and sizzling it in a hot-hot cast-iron skillet with melted butter)
Melt the butter. And the onion and leeks and saute until translucent. Add the lettuce and toss until it wilts. Add the sugar, salt and pepper until it tastes good. Add the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for a half-hour or so.
Strain the soup through a sieve or food mill. Return to the cooking pot; bring back to a boil. Add the peas and simmer ten more minutes. Mix sour cream and cream together, and then blend it into the soup. Reheat carefully without boiling. Serve piping hot with the croutons floating on top.
I like it the next day for lunch, still chilled.
Now, I said lettuce two ways, didn't I? That's because I have one little salad trick tucked in my apron pocket. I loved it as a child, and my children love it too. How my dear mother managed to prepare it on hot days in Missouri, I will never know. But, bless her, she did. So if you think your family could swallow one more salad, here's the one that will make them happy to do so: dear Camie's Wilted Green Salad. The secret ingredient is (ahem)...bacon.