Lattuga al Forno con la Pancetta Affumicata

Baked Boston Lettuce Wrapped in Bacon

Along with many other Italian cooks, I have always been intrigued by the fascinating role that plain salad greens can play in cooking. In this book, for example, see the tonnarelli and the grilled endive; in More Classic Italian Cooking, see the stuffed lettuce soup. Boston lettuce is very similar to cappuccina, a tender Italian lettuce; in this recipe it gets its chance to show the remarkably expressive flavor it has once it is let out of the salad bowl.

The parboiled lettuce is wrapped with the butcher’s best bacon, baked for a time, then topped with slices of milk-soaked bread, with beaten egg, nutmeg, and Parmesan, and baked some more until a crust forms on top. The rich taste makes this not only a strikingly interesting side dish but also a worthy course on its own.

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Ingredients

  • 4 plump, full heads Boston lettuce
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ pound bacon, sliced thin
  • cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 6 thin slices good-quality, firm white bread trimmed of its crust
  • 1 extra large egg or 2 smaller ones
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg

Method

  1. Cut the lettuce heads in half lengthwise and make a cut halfway into the root ends so they will cook more evenly.
  2. Soak the lettuce in several changes of clean cold water.
  3. Bring 4 to 5 quarts of water to a boil. Put in 3 tablespoons of salt. When the water resumes boiling, put in 2 lettuce halves. Boil for 7 to 8 minutes, then transfer to a colander, using a large slotted spoon. Repeat the procedure with the remaining lettuce halves, boiling them 2 at a time.
  4. Turn on the oven to 450°.
  5. When the lettuce is cool enough to handle, fold each half inward and squeeze it gently with your hand, forcing out as much water as possible. Leave the lettuce folded after squeezing.
  6. Choose an oven-to-table baking dish large enough to accommodate all the lettuce without overlapping. Smear the bottom of the dish with ½ tablespoon of the butter.
  7. Divide the bacon slices into 8 portions and use each to wrap a lettuce half. Lay the wrapped lettuce side by side in the baking dish. Place in the uppermost level of the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  8. At the end of 20 minutes remove the baking dish, but do not turn off the oven. Sprinkle the top with half the grated cheese and a little bit of salt.
  9. Put the milk in a deep dish and soak the bread slices in it. When the bread has been well steeped, use it to cover the top of the lettuce in the baking dish.
  10. There should be a little milk left in the soaking dish, but if there is none put in 1 tablespoon of milk. Break the egg into the dish and beat it well together with a pinch of salt and liberal grindings of pepper. Pour the beaten egg over the bread in the baking dish. Combine the rest of the grated Parmesan with the nutmeg and sprinkle on top. Dot with the remaining butter and return the dish to the hot oven. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top has formed a golden brown crust. Serve when lukewarm.

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