By Heidi Lewis
Ah, the gentle pastoral life of farming. Tweeting birds, sweet breezes, warm sunshine smiling on tender seedlings... and your Mach2 Flamethrower with a pistol grip, igniter trigger and duel nitro fuel tanks strapped on your back! Kowabungah! Okay, farming is not a war per se, but it is the art of keeping one thing down so another can grow. Farmer Poet Michael Carey said something to that effect.
The mache in our central TakeHome cases this week is a tender green, that like many succulent greens, got a promotion from weed to lettuce based on its excellent taste. To grow this low growing velvety rosette, a farmer will sow the seed, then when the weeds spring up (remember weeds abhor a vacuum) they scorch the field with a little flame, destroying the opportunistic and fast growing weeds. This allows the mache seed, which is a day or two slower, to emerge in a field free of competition. It’s all about the tools.
In the US, it's called lamb's lettuce or corn salad, and known as La Mí¢ché in France. Mache had a champion to bring it to its current popularity. Founder and CEO of Epic Roots, Todd Koons, is the self-named Johnny Appleseed of baby lettuces; he set the trend of tender mixed greens. For 20 years, he's been promoting mache with the perspective that the American palate is ready for a tender green. Food critic Julia Moskin agrees, "In the 80s and 90s, there was a discovery of the more bitter and peppery herbs, like arugula and watercress, and that's how we come by these mesclun mixes that are now so popular," Moskin says. "And now we are seeing a movement away from that toward a more sweeter, gentler kind of lettuce, and to really sweet lettuces like mache."
Your tender mache is superb with a simple drizzle of good olive oil and squirt of lemon. Or treat it to a few slices of strawberry and a daring dash of balsamic vinegar. However you eat it, speak softly and carry a big fork.
Preparation: Wash gently and spin dry in salad spinner or dab dry with dish towel.
Storage: Very perishable, use as soon as possible. Store in clamshell or plastic bag in crisper section of fridge.