Produce of the Week - Oakleaf Lettuce
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Lettuce has a special place in Summer dining. It belongs in many of the sandwiches that go to pic-nics or get eaten between meals, and salads are specially suited to warm weather meal preparation and dining. Hot weather, though, is hard on lettuce in the field. Prolonged heat can cause lettuce to bolt - form seed stalks - which ruins the appearance and flavor of the crop, turning the leaves bitter. With luck, though, crops grown near the Santa Barbara coast won't suffer unduly, and we're counting on this for today's article.
One of the more delicate lettuces is Oakleaf. It comes in both red and green varieties, but the red one is what you'll see almost exclusively. Though it is delicate, it has some heat tolerance and can also be harvested earlier in its growth than many other lettuces, giving the grower some flexibility to beat the vagaries of the weather. It's worth looking out for at Summer markets.
The flavor of Oakleaf is distinctive. It has a slight mineral component combined with nuttiness, and rather than the tang of Romaine or the sweetness of Vulcan ("Red Leaf") there's the suggestion of white wine. The leaves are thin and tender. If you use it in sandwiches, they should be eaten shortly after preparation, as the lettuce will wilt otherwise. If you use it in salad, you probably want to use a thin dressing, rather than burden the leaves with a heavy cream. The lettuce's flavor will go well with the usual salad accessories (tomato, cucumber, scallions) and is a good complement for almonds or walnuts, too. The color and shape of Oakleaf make it useful as a garnish or as a base for presenting various other foods, but it would be a shame to leave the leaves uneaten.
photo courtesy of Laughingstock Farm