Mixing It Up With Mesclun
Dante DeMcCutac and wife Jen grow a variety of lettuce, herbs and edible flowers on three-quarters of an acre. Dante is the son of farmers who have worked the land on Kaua’i for 30 years, and at one time he certified organic farms for Kaua’i Organic Growers Association. He and Jen have been farming for 18 years.
Dante’s Family Farm specializes in growing mesclun and sell directly to local restaurants. Custom blends are grown specifically for chefs interested in unique, fresh baby green mixes.
Mesclun, which is derived from the Latin word for miscellaneous, is the most widely used term for assorted young or “baby” salad greens. Mesclun blends come in an array of greens and reds, and leaves are frilly, rounded, pointed or oak-leaf shaped. Mixes typically include lettuces, arugula, mizuna, tat soi, endive, escarole, rocket and radicchio.
Mesclun makes salad preparation easier for the home cook, since you don’t have to break down and clean several heads of baby lettuce.
Season: Mesclun is also known as “Spring Mix” because that’s when the tender leaves show up at Mainland markets. The first day of spring is March 20, but on Kaua’i, greens can be grown year-round.
What to look for: Select baby greens that are colorful, firm and crisp. Leaves that look faded or wilted are past their prime.
Storage: Wrap greens in a dish towel or layer in paper towels in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. If your baby greens are bought from a local farmer, they are super fresh and will store for up to five days.
Tip: If you have a variety of baby lettuce heads, make your own mesclun by separating the leaves from the central core. Some cooks keep the leaves whole for a dramatic presentation, but to make it easier to eat, tear larger leaves into pieces that can easily be picked up with a fork.
Preparation: Before preparing a leafy salad, wash the greens well, even if the package says they are organic and prewashed. Spin and dry in a salad spinner. If any wet spots remain, pat the leaves dry with a paper towel. The leaves must be dry so the salad dressing will cling to them. For easy weekday use, wash your greens after you buy them, then store as described above.
Mesclun leaves are delicate, and the best dressings are vinaigrettes, citrus dressings and a few cream dressings. When it comes to dressing fragile greens, you don’t want anything too heavy. After making the dressing, dip a leaf into it and taste for balance. Make adjustments and toss salad just before serving.
For best results, toss a leafy salad in a large glass, ceramic or stainless steel bowl with your hands. This is messy, but it protects the delicate greens from bruising. Plus, playing with your food is fun! Before dressing, sprinkle greens with a little sea salt to bring out the flavors.
Dante’s Family Farm produce can be found at: Restaurants: Hukilau Lanai, Kaua’i Pasta, Verde, Wahoo’s Seafood Grill. For ordering information, call 635-9032.
THE ART OF A SIMPLE SALAD
This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Mediterranean Fresh” by Joyce Goldstein. Prepare your greens as described, and continue with the recipe. Cream-based dressings are of French inspiration and use lemon juice as the acid component.
Makes six servings.
* 1/2 pound mesclun
* 1/2 cup mild olive oil
* juice of 1 lemon
* 1/4 cup heavy cream
* sea salt
* freshly ground black pepper
Whisk olive oil and lemon juice together in a small bowl, then whisk in cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Place greens in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle 1/2 cup of the dressing in a circular motion around the edge of the bowl and toss. The dressing will drip down the sides of the bowl and help to dress the greens faster and more evenly.
Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.