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In the early summertime, when the produce available at the farmers market or inside your CSA basket is just beginning to explode, cooking can be less a matter of choosing what you want to eat and more a matter of fighting to win the battle against your crisper drawer before your soft, delicate salad greens expire.
My own CSA share started a couple of weeks ago, and I've been feasting on early-season delights such as crisp pink radishes; sweet, tender beets; and, of course, every kind of lettuce you can think of. The heads quickly started to pile up in my refrigerator, and I began to feel helpless. After eating salad every day for a week, I decided I'd have to cook the stuff.
I'd never cooked lettuce before, but I knew that the ever-frugal French had recipes for braised lettuce and lettuce soup, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I ultimately opted for the latter technique, since I also had a few garlic scapes kicking around that I thought would lend nice flavor to a soup.
If you've never cooked lettuce before and find yourself wary, let me assuage your fears: This soup, which wilts the lettuce in a flavorful broth of veggie stock cut with a little dry white wine, comes out deeply flavorful and quite unique tasting. Cooking lettuce doesn't make it more watery and wan; on the contrary, it deepens the greens' flavors, bringing out the peppery notes that characterize lettuce's more assertive cousins like watercress and radicchio. A touch of cream smooths everything out, a hit of nutmeg adds a little bit of spice, and the soup is equally good served hot or chilled.