Friday, September 10, 2010

Focus: ARUGULA (Eruca sativa)

Arugula, which is also known as rocket, roquette or rucola, is dark green and very flavorful, with a punguent peppery taste.  It is a member of the mustard family.  Somehow it has gotten a reputation as just a gourmet food favored by food snobs.  In fact arugula is Italian peasant food - enjoyed by humble people for hundreds of years as either a fresh salad green or a cooked vegetable.  Tuscans have endless uses for arugula: chopped for a pizza topping,  sliced into soups or pasta or raw in salads.  You can eat arugula without shame or fear of being called "an elitist". 

Because arugula has such an assertive flavor, it is well suited for combination with other strong flavors such as blue cheese, citrus, olives, garlic, goat cheese and cured meats.   One especially harmonious combination - which is not uncommon to see on restaurant menus - is pears, arugula, walnuts and goat cheese.  I think it would be fun to experiment with this combination in different guises - such as salad, sandwich, omelet, pizza or with pasta -- you get the idea.  I would even throw in a few roasted beets for color and extra nutrition.

It likes cool weather and is best enjoyed in the spring and fall.  If you are an impatient gardener - plant some arugula.  With any luck you will only have to wait about 4-5 weeks from planting to harvest for medium sized leaves - depending on the time of year.

Arugula is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.  There are only TWO calories in a half cup serving.  (Once you add some olive oil, that number goes up fast!)

Arugula is fairly perishable - it has a high water content and wilts easily.   Refrigerate unwashed and  tightly wrapped.  Ideally you should use it within 3-4 days.  You can try to extend its life by putting the stems in a half glass of water, covering the leaves and glass with a plastic bag and storing in the refrigerator.  Compost discolored or yellow leaves - they have gotten too old.

Wash arugula well (it is probably a good idea to give it a swish in 2 or even 3 changes of water)  in a large sink or pan of water.  Allow a little time for the grit to sink, since the leaves are often sandy. Spin dry for use in a salad.  You only need to shake dry or drain in a colander if you will be cooking the arugula.

Dress lightly with olive oil and lemon juice and use as a bed for grilled food.
Use instead of lettuce in a BLT or other sandwich
Make a salad.  By itself, arugula is good dressed with a simple vinaigrette - good olive oil, white wine or champagne vinegar, salt, freshly ground pepper and shaved parmesan.  Or combine with a milder green such as butter lettuce for a nice contrast and balance.  Or add some thinly sliced red onion, apple and fennel to an arugula salad.
Slice into strips and add to a bean, pasta or potato salad.  Or put on top of a pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Add chopped arugula to an uncooked tomato-garlic sauce for pasta.  A few chopped Greek olives would be nice, too.

Do not boil arugula - it will destroy its characteristic flavor.  Gentle steaming - using just residual moisture from washing - for 2-3 minutes is all that is necessary.  Arugula can also be stir fried or sauteed.  Just add at the end of the preparation of a dish and cook until wilted.

I have seen many recommendations for substituting raw arugula for some or all of the basil in standard pesto recipes.  I have not tried this so cannot give you an opinion on the outcome. I also have seen arugula pesto recipes which call for steaming the arugula and squeezing it dry before using in a pesto.

Recipe: Arugula, caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza
This is a nice recipe which uses whole wheat tortillas as a crust.  Quick, easy, and low calorie.  You could also use a more traditional crust.
1 T. olive oil
1 medium red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
4 cups raw arugula - washed, dried and sliced or chopped
4 6 inch whole wheat tortillas
2 ounces goat cheese (blue cheese would be nice too)
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Saute the onion, slowly, in the olive oil for about 10 minutes - until golden brown.
Add the arugula and cook about one minute more.
Place tortillas on a baking sheet.  Top each with the arugula onion mixture.  Divide cheese among pizzas.  Bake about 10 minutes until tortillas are crisp and cheese is slightly melted.

1 comment:

  1. I can vouch for arugula pesto! I've had great luck with this recipe: