Pasta with Lettuce, Pecorino, Pine Nuts & Lemon

This could either be really offensive or really resourceful-sounding. I’m clearly hoping for the latter scenario. It’s because so many have recently shared with me their frustrations of lettuce overabundance, and salad-eating fatigue, that I deemed this recipe worthy of sharing (and caring) in return. Yes, it’s that point for me, too, thanks to the CSA season: produce is coming in too fast, too soon. Yes, I have reached the maximum capacity of lettuce that can be stuffed in the crisper. Yes, I am sick of eating salads. But do I want to let another good head go bad before eating it? No.

You’ve just got to get inventive somehow. Now, we could make some really cool lettuce wraps or stuff lettuce real tightly inside summer rolls, but the best way to use up a lot of lettuce fast is to cook it a little, make it shrink. I’ll admit that I don’t typically buy lettuce, it just appears from my CSA, but I have been known to stir-fry the chopped leaves just like napa cabbage sometimes.

an extraneous head of romaine

Or how about sautee it with garlic and olive oil instead? That’s what I set out to do, with a healthy-looking head of romaine. Then how about we toss that with a tangle of pasta, and for good measure, some toasted pine nuts, grated pecorino, chili flakes, butter and a good squeeze of lemon? I could eat pasta dressed like this with nothing else any day, but prefer to add vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, winter squash or Swiss chard. Like that last one mentioned, romaine lettuce has a mellow, unobtrusive flavor, but it’s much thinner and more watery than chard, or any other typically cooked leafy green. So I tossed this around in the flavored oil for just a minute and no more, to retain the crispness of the lettuce’s white ribs, while just wilting its greener parts.

the lettuce gets sliced while garlic minced and pine nuts toasted

You expect to taste something more assertive from the lettuce in the end. But in fact, scooping up the perfect bite with pasta, it still tastes pretty much like lettuce—or a salad—in all its cooling crunchiness. The seasonings in the pasta might remind of Caesar salad dressing, come to think of it. It’s surprising. It’s good. It took me a few moments to get used to it, before forming an opinion. It really took me off guard (probably because of all those salads I’ve been trying to scarf down).

just-wilted with garlic and chilies

So if you ever find yourself in the same predicament of lettuce overload, or just have a half-used head that’s not being put to any foreseeable use, keep in mind that you can always treat it like a hardier green instead. It’s fun to be surprised by tasting food in new contexts after all.

Pasta With Pecorino, Pine Nuts & Lemon
(makes 2 servings)

½ lb long pasta (such as spaghetti or linguine)
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch red chili flakes
4-5 large leaves romaine lettuce, sliced to roughly 1” slivers across the rib
2-3 tablespoons grated Pecorino or Parmiggiano-Reggiano
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Drop in pasta and cook to al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan, chef’s pan or Dutch oven over medium-high and toss in the pine nuts. Stir or shake pan just until pine nuts are slightly golden on the sides, and immediately remove them to set aside. Add about 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and the garlic and chili. Let cook, stirring, just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the lettuce and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Add the cooked pasta along with the butter, grated cheese, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the pine nuts and an optional drizzle of olive oil, and serve immediately with the optional zest as garnish.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 servings)

½ lb pasta: $1.25
2 cloves garlic: $0.20
½ head romaine lettuce (from CSA): $1.00
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts: $2.00
2-3 tablespoons grated Pecorino: $2.00
1 lemon: $0.40
1 tablespoon butter: $0.35
2-3 tablespoons olive oil: $0.50
salt, pepper, pinch of chili flakes: $0.15

Total: $5.85

Health Factor

Five maple leaves: It won’t do much harm, but it won’t do much benefit either. Lettuce is not known to be a superfood, like its more delicate cousins spinach and arugula. It’s mostly water, although romaine is one of the greener, more Vitamin K-rich varieties. Little specks of pine nuts and tasty, aged cheese sprinkle this dish with flavor, as well as protein. You could skip the butter to make it less rich or just add more heart-healthy olive oil instead of it. Also, you could opt for whole grain pasta to boost your fiber and protein while not filling up too quickly, too.

Green Factor

Six maple leaves: “Let us eat lettuce” was the raison d’être of this dish, and so I gave myself an extra point for wasting not from my CSA share. The rest of the ingredients are pantry staples or imported special treats, like the cheese, and offer a pretty sureproof formula for using up just about any veggie that you have to spare.

7 Responses

  1. Cindie

    I never think to throw romaine into pasta. Leafy greens? Yes, but never romaine. This looks so delish though!

  2. Melanie

    Have never sauteed lettuce in my life, but I tried this with some spring mix that was on the verge and it was surprisingly good.

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  4. Syb

    I just cooked this with ordinary lettuce. That was a great idea and it tasted fantastic. I am happy I looked up the idea of cooking lettuce. It just looked at me from the fridge and said cook me and first i thought that’s silly to cook salad. Oh how great to be silly!!!

  5. Ginny

    Many years ago, my husband and I ate at a trendy restaurant in LA. I can’t remember the name, and I’m pretty sure it’s out of business anyway. However, they offered a really tasty pasta dish with lettuce which we both loved. It had some Asian/Japanese flavors going on. I’m sad I can’t remember now exactly what I was tasting. At the time, I wasn’t a very adventurous cook, so I only knew to go to that restaurant rather than try to recreate it myself. Your recipe leans Italian, but still sounds delicious. I’m gonna give it a go. With more cooking skills under my belt now, I’m sure it’ll be a success. Thanks for the share.

  6. Elliott

    Great! I just finished it last night and the result was unexpected, My wife loves it. She got surprised. Yeah. I am going to try this for my friends too. Nice. Thanks for your recipe.

  7. Circe

    Did this today with iceberg instead of romaine, ground peanuts instead of pine nuts, and a bit of coconut milk instead of butter. Was super delish!!!

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