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07/12/2018

~A Little Thing Called Gem Lettuce: A Leafy Treasure~

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Lettuce is not a subject people get excited about.  That said, everyone has a preference, nonchalantly placing their favorite variety in their shopping cart as they saunter through the produce department.  In our present day food world, it's understandable to take this humble, fragile and perishable vegetable for granted, but, prior to the 1920's, that was not the case. Americans relied primarily on seasonal leaf lettuces that were grown in their gardens or sold in their local markets for their salads -- salad eating in the colder regions was a seasonal pleasure. Out of season, the cook relied on rugged root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and cabbage.

Thankfully, along came the transcontinental railroad.

It became possible for iceberg to be shipped year round, in traincars, from California to every corner of the USA.  Each crate of this round-headed super-crispy lettuce, which has a longer shelf life than all other leafy greens, was topped with ice to keep it cold during the long trip.  As the traincars pulled into depots for delivery and unpacking, the rail workers would shout, "here comes the icebergs", or, "the icebergs are coming".  Then, along came refrigerated rail cars, trucks and airplanes.  The stage was set for the lettuce industry to boom, and boom it did.  Worldwide distribution of many varieties of lettuce, bagged lettuce mixes and micro greens was possible.  

Gem lettuce is a miniature, slightly-sweeter variety of romaine.

IMG_9724Described as the perfect cross between butterhead & romaine.

IMG_9750Originally native to France and Spain, this miniature variety of romaine has been around for a long time on the West coast of the USA.  Thankfully, its gain in popularity has finally resulted in my having easy access to it here on the East coast, more specifically, Central Pennsylvania.  Its scaled-down appearance is remarkably similar to its larger relative, having a green (sometimes reddish), oblong head with loose, crinkly leaves gathered around its crisp, more compact heart. Described as the perfect cross between butterhead (also known as butter, bibb or Boston bibb) and romaine, its crisp texture and compact size make it perfect for appetizer-size lettuce wraps and a great substitute for iceberg lettuce on any type of sandwich or wrap sandwich.

It's super-crispy, fork-friendly green leaves are often served in high-end restaurants, in a fancy-schmancy single-serving salad course.  Sliced in half or quarters and lightly painted with vinaigrette or olive oil, it holds up really well on the grids of a hot grill or grill pan too.  Like other leafy greens and lettuces, it won't hang around forever, but, if stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, I've found it easily lasts up to a full ten days.

These sexy little lettuce heads dress up any type of salad.

IMG_0021Try 'em halved, brushed w/EVOO & grilled to a nutty-golden brown...

IMG_0030... in my Grilled Gem Wedges w/Blue Cheese, Bacon & Filet salad:

IMG_0173Or "as is" in my Little Gems Caesar Salad w/Roasted Chicken

IMG_9842"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

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