Everything Wants to Be a Salad

Lettuce grown under cover whispers the promise of warmer weather.

Each week at the farmers market at this time of year brings something new; each week the possibilities of dinner unfold exponentially. We’ve been plowing through piles of over-wintered greens, most of which are on the bitter side, but for the gentle taste of spring I’ve been visiting the folks at Gorznyski Ornery Farms and buying their soft, succulent lettuces, especially the red butter lettuce for which they charge an arm and a leg. I suspect Gorzynski uses a cold frame or hoop house to cheat the cold and get a head start on the growing season, which is why they’re the only folks in the market who have lettuce these days. I could wait another week or two, I suppose, but on the year’s first warm nights everything wants to be a salad.

Case in point: I bought some mackerel this weekend and, hunting for inspiration, found “poached mackerel with mayonnaise” in Pino Luongo’s inspired Fish Talking. He says to poach the fish in a court bouillon, make a mayonnaise, and serve them together. When I imagined this dinner, though, the fish seemed like it would be lonely on the plate all by itself, so I pulled all the vegetables out of the fridge and put together a composed salad. Beautiful leaves of that sweet red butter lettuce on the bottom; small boiled pieces of elegant La Ratte potatoes; spoonfuls of sweet, sharp, funky pan-roasted ramps; some stalks of grassy, chlorophyll-o-riffic steamed asparagus; a crown of meaty, rich fish; and an indulgent dollop of mayo. It felt lazy, but it was one of the best things I’ve made in weeks, even if that’s just the season talking.

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