Eating lettuce just got really exciting for me. Blame it on Little Gems which I ran across at a friend’s house in Northern California. This wonderful lettuce, a cross between butter and romaine, is grown there by Star Route Farms, an organic outfit run by Warren Weber in Marin County. When I called to inquire about Little Gems they told me that it originated in Britain.
What makes Little Gems so great is that it is firm and crunchy like romaine but sweet and delicate like butter lettuce. The leaves are small which makes it easy to eat and serve. If you love crunchy lettuce as I do you usually have only two choices—romaine or iceberg. I pretty much take romaine down to the heart to get at the crunchy part and unless I find an organic iceberg I avoid because it is so flavorless.
When I visited the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco I was thrilled to discover that Star Route has a stand there and were selling Little Gems. I made a salad with it, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and a shallot vinaigrette. Delicious. Also, I noticed that Chez Panisse served Little Gems with grapefruit, radishes and green chilies which sounds great too. I’m thinking of making a Caesar salad with it.
Though it is grown by several farmers on the East Coast, I have not seen Little Gems in any stores or farmers markets around here. If Whole Foods really means to help local farmers, instead of pretending to do so, why don’t they carry Little Gems…or some of the other great local East Coast produce?
For now I have taken matters in my own hands and brought some home so I can turn friends on to it and maybe some growers too. I can tell you I am really going to be sad when I run out.
Postscript to Little Gems
I've just spent a week with my friend Patrick Kinmonth, and since he lives in London I thought I would ask him if he has ever heard of Little Gems Lettuce. Not only did he know it but he rattled off his favorite recipe for them.
Remove the outer leaves and cut into the lettuce into quarters.
Melt two tablespoons of butter over a very low heat, don't boil, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, 4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped, and infuse over the heat for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and strain.
Immediately squeeze the juice of one lemon into the butter mixture and pour over the Little Gems. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Next time I get my hands on some Little Gems, I'm going to give this a try.
Find this amazing lettuce at Star Route Farms.