Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring Greens Novelty: Broccoli Spigarello and Piret Lettuce

Just when you think you've got enough veggies in your rotation you come across wonderful new things to try. This week, it was Piret lettuce and broccoli spigarello.

Piret lettuce is a lovely leafy green that has the shape and texture of butter lettuce but with the vibrant hues of a red leaf lettuce. I grabbed it the moment I saw it at Specialty Produce.


And what better way to show it off than a red salad. I had sweet little strawberries a friend had brought to me last weekend (I love incorporating fruit in green salads), peppadew peppers, red onions and just because I love them, toasted walnuts. A little vinaigrette and voila. Sweet and savory, and oh so pretty.


I also picked up a bunch of broccoli spigarello. Yes, this is in the broccoli family, although it doesn't have the thick stems and florets we associate with broccoli. Instead, think along the lines of kale. It's native to southern Italy, although Specialty Produce gets theirs from Coleman Family Farms in Carpenteria, just north of L.A.

Raw, its greyish tinted leaves are thin and curly, like a mass of unruly hair. And it has a very distinctive tangy flavor. Once you cook it, the leaves turn a crazy bright dark green and the flavors soften to something more like spinach without the edge. It's easy to prepare. Simply cut off the long stems, blanch the leaves in boiling water for about 3 minutes, drain and then saute in olive oil with garlic, onions or shallots. It's wonderful as a side dish or can be incorporated in stuffed pastas or lasagna, tossed with pasta and shell fish or mixed with cheese into a stuffing for fish or even a rolled flank steak.

I had bay scallops on hand so I made baked scallops with preserved lemon and served them on a bed of sauteed broccoli spigarello.

Baked Scallops with Preserved Lemon

8 oz. bay scallops
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tsp. preserved lemon, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. fresh Italian parsley leaves, minced
Olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle olive oil in a gratin or baking dish. Toss scallops with preserved lemon and spread on dish.

In a skillet, heat 2 tsps. of olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and bread crumbs. Stir until the crumbs are golden and crispy. Remove from the heat and add the herbs. Mix well. Top the scallops with the bread crumb mixture. Bake for five minutes or until the topping begins to brown and the scallops are opaque in the center.

Serves 2.
You can certainly leave out the preserved lemon if you don't have it, but they're very easy to make and wonderful to have on hand. All you need is a large glass jar, about 7 or 8 Meyer lemons and sea salt. Slice the lemons down the long end almost half way, turn it a quarter and do it again. Stuff the inside with salt. Grab that end, turn the lemon upside down and repeat so both ends are stuffed with salt. Place the lemon in the impeccably clean jar and repeat with as many lemons as you can fit into the jar and still screw on the lid. A lot of juice will come out. That's fine. Keep the jar of lemons on the counter for a month, periodically turning it over and back to make sure the juice is covering the top. After a month, you can use the lemons in pasta dishes, with fish or with Moroccan-style dishes. Keep the jar in the refrigerator and the lemons will last for months.

This jar was my inspiration. My friend Anne Otterson introduced me to them in her kitchen.


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