The crispy leaves of the Little Gem lettuce in combination with the salty anchovy and fresh bell pepper salsa makes this a vibrant and crunchy side salad.
What is Little Gem lettuce?
Little Gem lettuce are a smaller version of Romaine lettuce. They are not really lettuce hearts but are in fact a dwarf lettuce that only grow up to around 4 inch (or 10 cm) long. They have tender, tight, strong and thick crispy leaves giving them their similarity to the Romaine lettuce. I first learned about this baby gem lettuce when I was living in Spain some years ago. They are locally called Cogollos de Tudela, indicating the town of Tudela in Navarre where they were traditionally produced. Little Gems or cogollos are very popular as a side or main salad all over Spain. I have fond memories of my visits to the town of Tudela and the friends I have there, who taught me the best ways to eat this delicious salad.
Their main characteristic is the way they are served. Thanks to their thick and tight leaves, Little Gems are usually served cut in wedges, lengthwise in half or in quarters, depending on the size. Their colour varies from white at the bottom, light green to yellow in the inside and with darker bright green leaves at the outside. Little Gems or Cogollos de Tudela have a much stronger taste than the usual green lettuce. They have a sweet and delicate taste but at the same time slightly bitter.
How to make this Little Gem salad.
Note: All the exact quantities of the ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Little Gem lettuce salad dressing
Even though Little Gems can be eaten in various ways, I like to serve them cut into wedges with a drizzle of salad dressing to elevate the flavours. Since this lettuce is usually served with other ingredients, a simple dressing or vinaigrette is sufficient to lift up the taste. For this gem salad recipe, I have used a bell pepper salsa with some salty anchovies as a topping.
I have used tinned anchovy fillets in olive oil and a tablespoon of this anchovy infused oil as a base for the salad dressing. In a small mixing bowl, add extra virgin olive oil, oil from the anchovy, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper and mix well. And that’s it. A very easy and simple dressing to accompany the other ingredients.
You can use a different type of vinegar or anything you have at home that you like. I would however not use standard white grape vinegar because of its strong flavour. It will overpower the dressing. Optionally, you can grate in some garlic to give it some extra Spanish or Mediterranean punch. Drizzle the dressing generously over the wedges and make sure to coat them well on all sides.
How to make bell pepper salsa
Bell pepper salsa is a crisp, fresh delight and is perfect to pair with the delicate flavours of the Little Gem lettuce. It’s so easy and fast to prepare; just some chopping, a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar and seasoning to taste. I’ve combined a red and green bell pepper for this salsa, but you can use any colour combination you like.
Remove the seeds from the bell peppers and chop in very fine cubes. Do the same with an onion and chop it in similar sized cubes. I have used a standard white onion, but feel free to use a red or sweet onion. Drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil and apple vinegar and season with a pinch of salt, pepper and freshly chopped parsley. Use any good vinegar you have at home or that you like, but again, preferably not the standard white vinegar because of its strong flavour.
Little Gem lettuce with anchovies and bell pepper salsa
The last step is to combine everything into a healthy side salad full of freshness. Depending on the size of the Little Gem, cut it lengthwise in half or in quarters then arrange the pieces on a plate and coat each wedge well with the salad dressing. Spoon the bell pepper salsa on top of each wedge then use the rest of the salsa to garnish the plate for an extra serving. The final step is to place one or two anchovy fillets on top of each Little Gem quarter. Season with extra salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with some more freshly chopped parsley leaves.
When preparing most types of lettuce in advance, the leaves will be drenched with vinaigrette and will quickly become soggy. Little Gem lettuce has very strong leaves so this salad can be made up to 1 hour in advance. Cover and put it in the fridge to keep the lettuce and salsa nice, crunchy and fresh.
No, you can serve this salad with the leaves separated and create a normal tossed, mixed salad. It is personal preference. However, if you want to make it the Spanish way, you should slice it in wedges.
No, you can use the bell pepper salsa as a dressing to the Little Gem. I would in that case add olive oil to the salsa to make it a complete vinaigrette.
How to serve this dish?
Little Gem with anchovy and bell pepper salsa can be served either as a salad for a light lunch or as a side salad. When serving this dish as a salad for lunch, count on one full Little Gem per person.
When serving as a side salad, half a lettuce per person is sufficient. This recipe makes a perfect side dish to go with grilled fish or meat. You can serve it with dishes like these grilled chicken skewers, this dogfish stew or even with French tartiflette. For me, the combination with meat and anchovy goes really well, however, you can leave the anchovy fillet out if you don’t like to combine fish and meat.
Little Gem lettuce with anchovy and bell pepper salsa
- 1 large Little Gem lettuce (or 2 small ones) cut lengthwise in quarters
- 4 anchovy fillets canned in olive oil
- 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tablespoon anchovy oil
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
Bell pepper salsa
- ¼ cup red bell pepper finely diced
- ¼ cup green bell pepper finely diced
- ¼ onion finely diced
- 2 tablespoons apple vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley finely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Bell pepper salsa
- In a mixing bowl, combine the finely diced onion and the red & green bell pepper. Add olive oil, apple vinegar, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, add olive oil, anchovy oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir together.
Little Gem lettuce
- Trim the bottom of the Little Gem and cut lengthwise in quarters. Or when using smaller little gems, cut lengthwise in half. Arrange all the pieces on a plate. Drizzle the dressing over each quarter. Add the bell pepper salsa over each quarter and arrange one anchovy over each piece.
- Use any vinegar you have at home, except standard white grape vinegar which is too strong in flavour for this salad.
- Feel free to use a different variation of bell peppers. Only use one colour or mix other colours together.
- Leave out the anchovy fillet if you serve this as a side salad with meat and don’t like to mix meat with fish.
- Count on one full Little Gem lettuce per person when serving this as a salad for lunch.
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