Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Although available all year, spring and fall are peak season for endive, radicchio, and lettuces of all types.
CHOOSING: Look for unblemished foliage that is not wilted, avoiding bunches with brown or wilted leaves.
STORING: Store salad greens in a produce bag, and place in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Refrain from tearing or washing them until you are ready to use them. If they’re wilted, place them in an ice-cold water bath for 10 minutes, and spin dry. Most salad greens will last only a few days in your refrigerator, so buy or harvest only what you will use immediately. Radicchio will last three to four weeks.
GROWING: Nothing compares to the delicacy and fragrance of lettuce picked fresh from the garden. In areas where summers are mild, choose heat-tolerant varieties for all-summer salads.
Red and green leaf lettuces are easy-to-grow options that never curl inward or make a head; the center is open. There are dozens of varieties to choose from.
Romaine, or cos lettuce, stands taller than other lettuces and has a prominent center rib. Butterhead lettuce, which includes the popular Bibb and Boston lettuces, is a semiheading type with smooth, mild-tasting red or green leaves.
Curly chicory, or frisée, has frilly leaves that have a little crunch and a welcome bitterness. It makes frequent appearances in mesclun blends.
Endive is a salad green grown from seeds sown in the cool days of early spring. The narrow-leaved form is called chicory, and the tall, broad-leaved one is escarole, or Batavian endive.
Radicchio is a bright red and white Italian chicory that adds color and spice to salads. A related form called witloof chicory is grown to produce healthy roots that are dug at summer’s end and replanted in a warm dark place to produce Belgian endive during winter.
All of these can be grown in a rich, sun-drenched garden bed or in containers. Salad greens need compost and fertilizer for fuel. Invest in the soil so growing will be easy.
Start with either seeds or transplants. It’s a good idea to use transplants in spring gardens because seeds won’t germinate well when it’s cold, and plants will bolt, or set bloom stalks, when days are longer and warmer. However, the fall salad garden can easily be grown from seeds in late summer, and the plants will grow strong in the bright sun and cool days of autumn. With the exception of radicchio, which needs to have the entire head cut and brought indoors, most of these lettuces can be picked by cutting off outer leaves one at a time.