Friday, 23 January 2015

Braised lettuce - a main course

A friend was asking what was for dinner tonight and my response - braised lettuce - set an eyebrow twitching. Once I'd explained it, though, it seemed to meet with approval. It is, after all, only my own tinkering with a very French classic.

Serves two

Two romaine or sweet gem lettuce
A large shallot
A stick of celery
A handful of diced bacon or pancetta
A handful of frozen peas
A clove or two of garlic
A teaspoon of dried herbes de Provence or mixed herbs
A pint of vegetable stock
A glass of dry white wine
Olive oil
Fresh thyme and mint
Green legumes of your choice, appropriately prepared *

The reason for the asterisk above is that what you can get - or want to use - may depend on the season. Sliced runner beans are great, as are (peeled) broad beans. Green beans, sugar snap peas, edamame - the list goes on. You only want a couple of handfuls, adding them in with ten minutes to go.

Chop the shallot and celery and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large pan (for which you have a lid) and fry the bacon till the fat begins to brown. Add the onion, garlic and celery and some dried herbs and cook very gently for five to ten minutes.

Trim the lettuce root and remove any ageing leaves, reflecting on your own mortality. Quarter each head and rinse under cold water.

Turn the heat up and pour in the white wine. Add a sprig of thyme, then simmer for a couple of minutes.

Now add the lettuce and pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, and braise on a low heat for around twenty minutes, till the lettuce is just tender. Add the frozen peas and green asterisks (*), moving the lettuce aside to make room for them in the liquid and then sliding the lettuce back on top. Huddle the tomatoes atop all, re-cover and cook for ten minutes.

Warm a serving dish and transfer the vegetables and bacon to it, leaving as much of the cooking liquor as possible in the pan. Keep the dish warm while reducing the liquid by about two-thirds.

Stir in a little chopped mint, season to taste and pour over the braised vegetables.

Serve with warm brown bread.

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