You know something’s up when you return home from a few days out of town happy to see a crisper full of … wilted lettuce. But that’s just what happened this week when I opened the fridge to inspect the state of affairs inside.
Great, I thought, I can make more Lettuce Jam!
That’s a humble, almost-easily-overlooked recipe in The Book of Greens: A Cook’s Compendium, the new cookbook by celebrated Portland, Oregon chef Jenn Louis. True to its billing, the book is a comprehensive guide to greens from agretti (an Italian green I’d never heard of) to wild greens, with stops along the way for cardoon, mache, seaweed and even succulents. Louis is known for creative, soulful, globally inspired fare, but I wanted to see what she suggested for something more mundane: the lettuce chapter.
There were classics — chopped salad, wedge salad — and surprises — a carrot cake, a beautiful celadon green panna cotta. Then my eye fell on this recipe. It’s elegantly simple and a delicious way to turn those aging odds and ends otherwise destined for the compost heap into something so. much. more. The flavor is tangy and green and addictive.
I’ve made it a couple of times, serving it as a dip with flatbread, smeared on sandwiches, dolloped on tacos, whisked into salad dressing. I used some to make a speedy, creamy pasta sauce last night, whisking it with egg yolks, pecorino Romano and a little starchy pasta water. Heck, with this “jam’s” lovely, creamy texture, you could forego the egg yolks. I’ll slather it on a pizza this weekend (with shrimp — yum!). It would be a stunning sauce with Paula Wolfert’s Oven-Steamed Salmon.
It’s a flexible concoction, too. I’ve used iceberg, Romaine and red-leaf lettuce. Regular onion can stand in for the shallots. You can swap the cornichons for giardineira or, if you want a little heat, pickled jalapenos or even kimchi. I’ve even used jarred dill pickle relish in a pinch.
Whatever you use, it takes cleaning out the fridge to a whole new level.
6 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil, divided
10½ ounces assorted lettuces (including outer leaves and damaged leaves)
2 large shallots, diced
1½ tablespoons drained capers
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Fine sea salt, to taste
Place a large pan over high heat. When very hot, add ¼ cup oil. When the oil shimmers, add the lettuce and let it cook, undisturbed, 2-3 minutes or until the moisture has evaporated. Give it a stir and let it cook about 3-4 minutes or until the leaves become dry. Use a plastic spatula to scrape the lettuce onto a plate.
Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Stir in the shallots and cook 2-3 minutes or until translucent. Scrape them onto the plate with the lettuce. Refrigerate until very cold.
Combine capers, cornichons and mustard in a food processor or blender. Pulse to chop, leaving the mixture chunky. Add the greens and onions; process until it’s the consistency of a creamy dip. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days.
Makes about 2 cups