What is Salanova? And Is It the Answer To All Our Prayers?

Wondering around the Mercato delle Erbe (the fruit and vegetable market) in Bologna a few weeks ago I came upon some green leaves labelled ‘salanova’. I was curious and I bought some.

Although the salanova lettuce leaves were small – and rather attractive – I found they had a lot of taste. I decided to investigate further.

Salanova is a new kind of lettuce, with a registered trademark, which has been developed by Dutch seed specialists Rijk Zwaan. It’s allowed to grow for longer than most ‘baby’ lettuce, hence the enhanced taste but it has a number of other advantages too.

The one which appeals to me the most is the time-saving aspect. A while ago I read something frightening about how bad the gases in ready cut and washed bags of lettuce are for you. For a while I bought whole lettuces and washed them myself but having usually 15 minutes flat to produce dinner I’m ashamed to say the siren call of the ready-washed leaves was impossible for me to resist.

Salanova however may be the answer. The leaves connect together at the bottom rather than growing, at intervals, off a central stem. As a result if you simply make a quick indented circle around the stem at the bottom all the leaves fall apart instantly. The growers have actually produced a gadget to do this which looks completely unnecessary – a sharp knife is just as effective.

There are two types of salanova lettuce, one with incised leaves and an attractive frilly texture; and the ‘multi-leaf’ which has lots of uniform, small leaves. I think the ‘uniform’ type is less interesting as I like a mix of textures, sizes and colours, but the solution is to buy a couple of different types.  There are two colours of both types to choose from, emerald or deep crimson.

All of it looks fresh and sort of ‘bouncy’… professional. A salanova lettuce gives between two and four times the yield of a normal lettuce and has up to double the shelf life.

Altogether a useful addition to the usual salad ingredients but if I’m cooking for just two I will stick to the hated, gassy bags…. and if I’m cooking for 42, as I am in a couple of weeks time, I probably will as well. Perhaps for a small dinner party?


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