In seventeenth-century England only the king could eat lettuce, a vegetable with a delicate taste, rich in water and crunchy and at that time still very rare across the English Channel. Today it is an ingredient par excellence in salads and discreetly accompanies various dishes as a side dish or even decoration, as well as being the first component in the preparation of some soups, for which it is recommended for its lightness and mild calming effect. Only a few people do not appreciate it: there are those who consider it indigestible due to its high water content, but it is appreciated by others for its ability to promote digestion.
Origins and history
It is not clear where exactly it comes from, except for the so-called "Roman" probably born in Italy. Perhaps it even came from Siberia or perhaps from India, it was already loved by the ancient Romans - enthusiastic consumers - but we know that it was already known also to the Persians, and its cultivation dates back to around 2500 BC.
However, the intensive creation of new varieties dates back only to the 17th century, thanks to the invention of a forcing technique with which even now production can take place throughout the year. In addition to intensive cultivation or in a vegetable garden, it is also possible to grow two or three tufts in a rather large tank placed on a balcony or terrace, for a tasty family mini-consumption.
Nutritional and beneficial properties of lettuce
Composed of 95% water, it is very refreshing and has modest values of sedative elements. Contains good amounts of folic acid (vitamin B9), vitamins B and C, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium and iron among other minerals.
It can help in calming coughs, has mild analgesic abilities and is recommended for those suffering from diabetes because it helps regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. Furthermore, lettuce is quite satiating and is therefore also ideal in a weight loss diet, both because it contains only 15 calories per 100 grams, and because abundant consumption before actual meals can ensure that water ingested with the leaves leads to a discrete feeling of satiety.
Use of lettuce in the kitchen
Simply flavored with oil, salt and lemon you get a superb side dish. However, care must be taken not to break them into very small parts - it would be better to leave them whole - and not to manipulate the leaves too much, crunchy as they are rich in water but therefore easily spoiled if cut. For the same reason, it is better not to buy clumps whose leaves are starting to wither, because they have already lost at least part of their water content and the consistency under the teeth will be rather unpleasant.
Consumed raw it gives its best and perfectly accompanies any kind of dish, whether it is based on eggs, or meat and fish of any kind.
Even when paired with wine or other drinks, there are hardly any unpleasant taste contrasts. The common smooth lettuce is perhaps the quintessential variety and one of the richest in taste, while the riccia has an interesting texture and a slightly bitter taste. The tufts are mostly rounded - but the Roman is elongated - and the well-cleaned leaves of the preferred variety can be used as a "bed" (also decorative in color and shape) on which to place freshly grilled fish fillets to be consumed immediately , or to use as edible containers for various sauces in which to dip other foods.
Lettuce can also be used as an ingredient for steamed ravioli, together with other vegetables, pieces of feta, chervil and parsley. Or you can try to replace it in part with basil in pesto and adding with almonds of chopped pistachios. for a delicate soup, it can be softly wilted over the fire with very little water together with the shallot, then finish cooking in the vegetable broth and whisk the mixture perfuming it with a little nutmeg.
Although lettuce - "Lactuca sativa" - has been consumed for centuries, the genus Lactuca was only described in the 18th century by Linnaeus. It belongs to the same - however huge - family of chrysanthemums and since in ancient times it was believed that its use helped to control sexual arousal, its use was therefore recommended to eunuchs.