Through the spring and summer, I find that at any given time I generally have either too many or too few lettuces. I don’t know how I always manage to mis-judge so badly… though forgetting to plant in regular small doses and trying to make up for it by planting rarely but in large quantities probably has something to do with it. Those moments, however, when I notice that one of my lines of planting has sprung up and the tiny leaves are packed so close that they’re throttling each other, are ones I look forward to immensely. The ‘thinnings’ are so tender and tasty, and make such a wonderfully pale salad base. Equally tasty are the first tiny globe artichokes, which are far too tenderly delicious to subject to cooking. Together, these things taste of pure spring.
Tiny lettuce leaves – a couple of large handfuls
Baby globe artichokes – 3 or 4
Pine nuts (pinoli) – 2 tbsp
Lemon – juice of one quarter
Dijon mustard – 3 tsp
Pick over the lettuce leaves and leave them to soak in cold water.
In a salad bowl, whisk together with a fork four tablespoons of oil, the lemon juice and the mustard, beating until the mustard has emulsified and a smooth dressing forms.
Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichokes, pare back the hard pointy tips and peel about six cm of stalk, discarding the rest. Cut off the remaining stalk, quarter the artichokes lengthwise, then, still cutting lengthwise, slice each quarter into very fine wedge-slivers. In Italy, artichokes are picked so small that their chokes are barely formed and therefore can be eaten; if you find your chokes are unpleasantly furry, you should cut them out at this point. As you slice, put the slivers into the dressing and toss them, to prevent the artichoke from turning black. Cut the peeled pieces of stem into very thin rounds and add them to the salad bowl too.
Cut the thinnest possible slivers of parmesan: how much you use depends on your tastes but a good half cupful will probably be enough. Drain and spin the lettuce leaves, and place them in the salad bowl together with the pine nuts and parmesan.
Toss the salad very gently and taste it: if there doesn’t seem to be enough dressing, add more olive oil and toss it again.
© Anne Hanley, 2011