The tentative yellow-green of the first grass blades and baby leaves of spring have exploded into the lushness of early summer, hanging in the heavy tree canopies overhead and busting out of the garden as the first crops of lettuce and broccoli. But for every crunchy little butterhead there are a dozen thistles and dandelions and other weeds. Mint enjoys something of a double-agent status in our garden, since it can definitely be a pest because it grows so quickly and spreads everywhere, its tough carpet of roots almost impossible to eradicate. The only thing is that I love mint so much that I can't bear to fight it with any real conviction. So instead I harvest it like crazy, making mint-apple jelly, gallons of iced tea, and especially this simple syrup that originally caught my eye because it uses surplus basil, but mint works just as well. We mix it with seltzer when we're feeling virtuous and add some rum when we're feeling less so.
But the real star of today's show is this delightful vegetable side dish that I made for dinner tonight. It's not my own; I got it from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment via this month's Saveur magazine. With only four ingredients it manages to be sweet, crisp, buttery, creamy, and salty. Best of all, it uses a lot of lettuce, which is coming out our ears right now, and also uses green garlic, which is just immature garlic bulbs and stalks that have a great garlic flavor without being overpowering. Kind of like a scallion, but garlic flavored. It's also sadly underused, in my opinion.
I had a mental block against cooking lettuce, even though there are plenty of respectable recipes out there for grilled and wilted lettuce. Now I am a convert. We ate this for dinner with fried eggs and raisin toast, and it was magical.
Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Green Garlic
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 small stalks green garlic, or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas (I used frozen and they were terrific)
2 small heads butter lettuce (about 6 oz.), washed, cored, and torn into large pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat; add garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add peas and cook until bright green and tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining butter, along with lettuce and 1 tablespoon water, season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Stir until lettuce is just wilted, about 1 minute.