How to Use Lettuce in Italian Food Recipes

Lettuce is a cool weather plant which needs plenty of water, although some varieties can tolerate more heat than others. Many gardeners choose to plant it as an off season crop (in the fall or spring). One of the keys to great lettuce is to use organic principles in order to keep chemicals away from the plants. Lettuce starts off best between 40 degrees F and 60 degrees F. The one danger is a hard freeze. Most lettuce varieties will survive a light freeze, but a hard freeze will damage the leaves.

Most farmers and gardeners break lettuce down into four main varieties.

• Crisp head or Iceberg - This is the lettuce most often sold in the grocery story. It has a white, crisp heart (which is why it is commonly called Iceberg lettuce). It is a good choice for warmer climates or for summer crops because it is resistant to bolt.

• Butterhead lettuce produces thick leaves that are soft and cream-colored. This is one of the best tasting varieties that can be grown.

• Leaf varieties are the easiest to grow. There is no heart or head. These simply grow as a bunch of loose leaves. These are all good choices for gardeners who prefer to harvest a few leaves of lettuce at a time. Leaf lettuce can come in red, green, frilled, cut and even curled cultivars.

• Romaine or Cos lettuce is a tall plant with rigid leaves that are tightly packed together. The Romaine variety finds it use most often in a Caesar salad, which often accompanies any Italian dish either at home or in restaurants.

Oddly enough, lettuce can often be used in more recipes than just a simple salad. Although everyone loves a nice romaine salad with fresh toasted croutons and lots of olive oil - lettuce can also be used in nutritious soups and other culinary dishes

Here are two Italian recipes below which use lettuce:

Cannellini Bean Soup with Lettuce

  1. Start by heating a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large sauce pan. Using a food processor - any size is fine from a Cuisinart food processor 11 cup model, or a smaller version - chop 2 medium onions and sauté over medium heat until translucent - about 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Add in 8 cloves of crushed garlic and sauté those for 3 more minutes or until the fragrance of the garlic is very noticeable. Make sure the garlic does not burn and that the garlic is only crushed, not chopped.
  3. Add in 2 cans of cannellini beans which are rinsed and drained.
  4. Add in 4 cups of chicken broth or stock and stir. Mash some of the beans so to thicken the soup.
  5. Add in 1 bunch of leafy lettuce such as escarole or even romaine if that is what you have on hand.
  6. Gently stir and let the soup cook for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Next, stir in 1/4 cup of white wine (dry) and 1/4 cup of grated Romano cheese. Give a good stir and let cook over medium heat for another 10 minutes.
  8. Serve your guests using nice pasta bowl sets with toasted garlic bread on the side.

Italian Kale with Garlic and Cannellini Beans

This is an easy recipe which is great as a side dish to breaded chicken or even as a recipe by itself. Start by rinsing a whole head of kale, making sure it is free of loose dirt and small insects. Then chop into smaller bite size pieces.

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Slice a few cloves of garlic and add to the oil and fry for about 3 minutes making sure not to burn the garlic.
  3. Next, add in the kale. Don't worry if it looks like it will not all fit, it will cook down quickly.
  4. Once all the kale is in, give a gentle toss and add in about 1/3 cup chicken broth.
  5. Add in 1 can of rinsed cannellini beans and stir.
  6. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Do not let the kale become soggy, but cook it until there is still enough firmness in the leaves.
  7. When ready, serve warm.



Article was contributed by Liz Krause of SimpleItalianCooking which features Italian recipes and is a source for Italian kitchen products and reviews for appliances such as the Delonghi Italian gelato maker, GM6000. Liz grew up in an Italian home where food was an important part of their daily lives. Today she enjoys spending her free time in the kitchen trying new recipes which she posts on her website.

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