There's Tango and Lolla Rossa, Tom's Thumb and Tennis Ball. There's Optima and Sylvesta, Cardinale and Sweet Valentine, Oscarde and Little Caesar bursting red, new spring green. There's Green Deer Tongue stooping down and Butterking standing tall, Formidana bunched into a tight little ball.
Some are looseleafs and never form a head. Others are Romaines, from the island of Cos, or sweet Butterheads—the Bostons and the Bibbs. Others still—the Buttercos—are a cross between the two, half heart and half crunch, in varieties like Rouge D'Hiver and Sucrine. Lastly there are the icebergs (or the crispheads), curled on themselves into tight, compact balls.
Recently, it's Little Caesar who's stolen me. He's a miniature Romaine, crisp and sweet with dark ruffled leaves and a light green heart bundled underneath. When you cut him in half he feeds two perfectly—touched on the grill, drizzled with dressing, Parmesan ribbons and chunks of garlic bread strewn over top and alongside.
I found him sitting proud with Barbara Dean of Orleans—and I'll be back for more at 8 a.m. sharp this Saturday on the green.
GRILLED LITTLE CAESAR SALAD
As implied by the name, this delightful summer salad requires a grill. If you don't have one, you can also sear the lettuce over very high heat in a cast iron skillet, but I'd recommend cooking over at a friend's house that does have a grill instead—the smoky flavor is key. Plus, if you're grilling lettuce, it's an excellent excuse to grill something else: marinated chicken? burgers? steak? shish kabobs? All, in my book, are a very good thing.
1 head garlic, top 1/4 sliced off
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/8 cup buttermilk
1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 heart Little Caesar or other Romaine, halved
2 slices rustic bread
3 ounces shaved Parmesan
Turn the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the garlic in a piece of tinfoil and drizzle it with garlic. Scrunch the tinfoil together at the top to wrap it up, and put it in the oven to roast until the cloves are soft, 45 minutes to an hour.
Light a grill. (Woo!) Squeeze half of the soft garlic cloves into a mixing bowl or blender along with the buttermilk and lemon juice. Using an electric mixer or the blender, beat these into a puree. With your engines running (read: the mixer or blender on and moving), add the olive oil in a slow, slow stream. When it's blended, season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the grill is hot, drizzle the bread slices and the cut sides of the Little Caesar hearts with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place the bread on the grill to toast. This should take about a minute per side.
Next put on the lettuces, cut side down, and sear for about 20 seconds. Flip and grill another 20 seconds, then place the hearts cut side up on two plates. Drizzle with the roasted garlic dressing and sprinkle with the shaved Parmesan. Spread the remaining roasted garlic onto the pieces of toasted bread, and serve alongside. Enjoy at once.