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Stuffed lettuce rolls, Romagna peasant recipe

Stuffed lettuce rolls

I am in Puster Valley, where, even in the middle of August, the mountains provide sun-kissed summer days and more than acceptable temperatures.

As I am every Friday, I am at the farmers’ market in Bruneck (in that Instagram post, I talked about my protracted stay in a village in the Italian Alps).


Farmer's market in Brunick

At the farmer’s market

I am in front at one of my favorite stalls, waiting to buy my weekly vegetable supply, when a woman buys some lettuce and asks the farmer to remove the outermost leaves. And, suddenly, a memory from a few years earlier is unlocked that, like a matryoshka doll, refers back to another older one.

The first memory takes me back to the full and satisfying summers we spent in the countryside, paying love and attention to the old home and the vegetable garden. The same place where now, from May to October, I hold part of my cooking classes.


A forgotten home recipe, stuffed lettuce rolls

What comes back to me is the urgency that led me toward the vegetable garden one mid-July morning a few years ago.
It is almost 11 o’clock on a hot summer day.
The air is still, and the light is blinding.
From the vegetable garden, I can see the fields where the wheat has been reaped.
The cicadas bring me back to why I am here. I need to choose vegetables for today’s lunch. I’ve just invited friends for lunch and don’t have time to rush to the grocery store. It’s better to provide using what the pantry and garden offer.

I review what’s there: the red and fragrant tomatoes, the dark and white eggplants with equally shiny skin, zucchini, melons, and peppers. At the back are two rows of different varieties of lettuce, both exhausted from the summer heat.

Looking at them brings to mind the stuffed lettuce rolls dish I used to eat many years ago, always during the summer.
Grandma used the outer leaves of the head, the ones you usually throw away since they are whipped and almost always dirty with the ground.

I walk across the sunny garden. I am hot and excited at the idea of cooking that recipe for the first time. I walk in through the kitchen French doors directly.

The weather is gorgeous, and the vegetables I bring helping myself to my apron represent the smell of summer that I perhaps love most. My haul consists of basil, tomatoes, and lettuce. I will use the outer leaves for the rolls and the rest as a side. I also picked up tomatoes to enrich the salad and some basil leaves to add fragrance and flavor to the filling.


Stuffed lettuce rolls

Lunch time

Lunch time is near, and it’s time to hurry since I have never cooked this dish even though I remember a summer dish, easy to make and, at the same time, inviting.

The peasant-inspired dish uses humble ingredients that we throw away today.

How many times have I silently observed greengrocers weighing lettuce and only then removing the outer leaves? The same they use to prepare ready-made bags of minestrone and soup.

Returning to stuffed lettuce rolls, the recipe enhances the outer vegetable part that has lost its natural crispness and stale bread. In fact, the stuffing always had a base of bread, fresh but more often old bread that grandma mixed with what was in the refrigerator and pantry.

At times, after soaking, she would combine the bread with a few olives, a handful of capers, and some chopped basil.

If nonna discovered any leftovers of mortadella, ham, or cheese in the fridge, you would have found them in the rolls. On special occasions, the cook would mix minced meat with the bread.


Roman lettuce leaves

A few recommendations

The leaves are not all the same size, so with the stuffing, you have to go a bit by eye. If there is any leftover, make meatballs.

Serve the rolls as a main course in company with a side dish.
Grandma used to cook them by sautéing them in a pan with olive oil.
This way, she would create a crispy crust on the outside.
You can also bake them in the oven (turning them halfway through cooking). Or, if you are in the mood to overdo it, fry them in hot oil.

Buona cucina, Monica

Cook with me

I also wrote about shopping at the August market in the post devoted to the blackberry salad recipe.

Keep in Touch

Stuffed lettuce rolls


Food tip

You can easily make the rolls vegetarian by replacing the 200g of mixed mince with another 200g of stale bread.

Stuffed lettuce rolls

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4


For rolls

  • 12 large lettuce leaves I opted for Roman lettuce
  • 300 g stale bread
  • q.b. milk or water and olive oil
  • 200 g mixed minced meat
  • 80 g grated Parmigiano reggiano
  • q.b. salt
  • 10 chopped basil leaves
  • 60 g finely chopped pitted green or black olives

For breading

  • 1 whole egg
  • q.b. breadcrumbs
  • q.b. salt and olive oil


  • Select the large external leaves of the lettuce. Wash and blanch them in boiling salted water. Drain and place them on a clean kitchen towel and let cool.
  • In a bowl, soften stale bread with milk (or water and a few tablespoons of olive oil).
  • Squeeze the bread, then put it back in the bowl and add mince, grated Parmesan, a pinch of salt, chopped basil, and olives (which you can replace with 5 g capers, rinsed under running water and again chopped with a knife).
  • Knead.
  • Using your hands, take some of the mixture, shape small cylinders, and wrap them in a leaf until you run out of lettuce leaves, making sure to cover the filling.
  • Let rest on a tray for 10 minutes.
  • In a deep dish, place the whole egg with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and beat with a fork. On another plate, arrange the breadcrumbs.
  • Dip the rolls in breadcrumbs, then in egg and again in bread.
  • Grease the bottom of a skillet with plenty of olive oil and add more as needed during cooking. Cook the lettuce rolls over medium heat on a small stove, turning frequently, for 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown.
  • Serve the rolls hot with a side dish.
  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator. The next day, you can consume them cold, cut into slices, with mayonnaise sauce.


Stuffed lettuce rolls

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