Last Chance Foods: Lettuce

Friday, October 23, 2009

Now is the time to enjoy fresh local lettuce varieties. While tender greens like arugula and mache usually bring to mind hot summer days, they are able to weather the first frosts of the season. Soon the salad greens available will only be those grown in hot houses or shipped to the New York area from warmer climates. While this year’s wet weather brought late blight for tomato crops, lettuce faired well, particularly since many varieties require continual replanting.

WNYC's Amy Eddings talked to Liz Neumark, the CEO of Great Performances, about the varieties of lettuce grown at Katchkie Farm, the company's 60-acre organic farm in Kinderhook, N.Y. Great Performances, a catering and event company, has contacts with Jazz at Lincoln Center, Sotheby's, The Plaza and BAM, among others.


Lettuces and leafy greens love cool temperatures. So what we have in the field now, and what we also had as first crop in May: We have arugula and a mixed baby salad greens, so it's a combination. It's just like multicolored jewels glistening in the morning dew down the rows. We have romaine, we have red tipped, deer's tongue. We have several different varieties. Then, of course, we have the more hearty greens, the collards, kale, the chard. all of those are loving this weather.

Neumark says that New Yorkers can grow lettuce in backyards or indoors in containers. Planting generally begins in May, but can vary depending on indoor conditions. Neumark, a third generation Manhattanite, explains how she came to own a farm upstate.


Being in the food business for so many years, you somehow become so caught up in the activities of the events and a little disconnected from the food. I felt it was really important for us to somehow connect to the roots of our food business so I take this hidden passion of always wanting to farm and the need to just somehow explore and experiment and celebrate flavors in a very unique way. And that led us to buying our own farm.

A winter without salad greens of any sort seems bleak, and Neumark says that she favors the micro-greens grown in Katchkie’s greenhouses during the colder months.


A micro-green is a really baby top to either a beet, mache, mizzuna, arugula, but it doesn't get bigger than your thumbnail. Or if you really want a sort of mature one, it could be two thumbnails. And it is the most intense flavor. For me, that’s really what gets me through the winter when I can’t go out and cut a head of lettuce in the field.

Here's Neumark’s back-to-the-basics salad recipe:

1. Start with a good lettuce: arugula, mache, mizzuna, or romaine
2. Blend in fresh herbs like thyme, basil, or mint
3. Whisk extra virgin olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar
4. Add in slices of apples or pears
5. Add a bit of goat cheese
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper
7. Top with micro-greens.


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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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