Lettuce are available in a vast number of varieties, and are either crisp or floppy, growing from a central stalk to form a spherical or lozenge-like head. Most of them have green leaves, some with red tinges, and they all have a delicate, clean flavour.
Lettuce is mainly eaten raw in salads, though you can also add them to soups or braise them as a side dish. Crisp leaves work well with robustly flavoured dressings, while the floppier types need to be partnered with something more subtle.
Among the most commonly available floppy lettuces in the UK are Round, Butterhead, Lollo Rosso, Escarole, Oak Leaf and Little Gem. Crisp include Iceberg, Cos, Curly Endive (also known as Frisée), Web's Wonder and Romaine.
Choose the best
Lettuces need to be really fresh to taste good, so avoid any that show any signs of wilting (though the outer leaves of the crisp varieties often reveal fresher leaves beneath when removed) or yellowing.
Pull off as many leaves as you need from the base, then wash, drain and shake well (but gently, as they bruise easily) to dry them. It's worthwhile investing in a salad spinner if you eat a lot of lettuce, as it dries them much more efficiently. Don't allow lettuce to soak in water, as it softens the leaves.
In a perforated bag in the fridge. Soft lettuces will last around one or two days, crisp varieties a day or two longer.
Dress and serve in a salad. Shred and add to a spring or summer vegetable soup just before the end of cooking. Braise with peas (20-30 minutes). Brush with marinade, then grill halved crisp lettuces like Romaine on a barbecue, three minutes each side.
Try lamb's lettuce or baby spinach.