The more I discover about the intensive production systems used to make cheap food, the more passionate and fanatical I become about growing and rearing as much of our own food as possible.
We're smack in the middle of the growing season so this is a brilliant time to start to grow some "cut and come" salad leaves. The seeds can be sown directly into the ground from mid-spring to early summer. Sow the salad leaves in rows or small patches: seedling will appear within 10 days of getting started. You can be harvesting leaves within 3 weeks, rather than the three or four months it takes to grow a standard hearted lettuce. They come in a brilliant range of flavours and textures that you won't find in any of the ready mixed bagged lettuces. Commercially produced lettuce is also washed in a cocktail of chemicals, and is far less flavourful and nutritious than that you grow at home.
A few suggestions to get started:
• Mizuna – grows all year, the deeply serrated leaves, are slow to bolt – tasty and prolific
• Mibuna – as above but with long thin leaves – very hardy.
• Claytonia or Winter Purslane
• Oak leaf lettuce works brilliantly as a 'cut and come crop' –it comes in green and bronze and crops almost all year
• Merville des quatres saisons – a waxy looking green tinged crimson lettuce
• Rocket – aptly named because the wild rocket start early produces an explosion of hot peppery flavour in your mouth – great for salad, pasta, garnish, etc.
• Mustard greens – hot perky mustard flavour, very versatile, great in salads but the larger leaves can also be cooked. Red Giant is a particularly delicious variety.
Dressing your precious leaves
Green Salad must not be dressed until just before serving, otherwise it will look tired and unappetising. The flavour of the dressing totally depends on the quality of the oil and vinegar. We use best quality, cold-pressed oils and superb wine vinegars to dress the precious organic lettuce and salad leaves. The quantity one uses is so small it's really worth spending as much as you can afford on best quality – it makes all the difference.
Simple French Dressing
Makes enough to dress a salad for 4 people
6 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons best quality white or red wine vinegar
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Whisk all ingredients together just before the salad is to be eaten.