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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Arugula: Spice of Life


Arugula. Arrugula. Rocket Salad. Roquette. Rugola… It has many names but it's all the same thing. This peppery, leafy green has become quite popular with chefs over the past 10 years. It's that long leaf salad green with scalloped leaves and a strong, distinct peppery flavor. It’s often found in mesclun salad mixes, or even alone as a bagged salad.

I vaguely recall when we first got a request for “Rocket Salad.” It must have been in the 1970s when we were just beginning to market fresh herbs. (That's right, fresh cut herbs have only been widely sold in supermarkets for 30 years. Before that time, home cooks had to use dried herbs. What a flavor revolution!) We got one of our small growers to plant a few rows on their farm and we sold maybe five small bags a week.

I think Arugula is still most popular in Europe. When I first visited Berlin four years ago, my most memorable meal was at a glorious, glass-enclosed restaurant. My host ordered an incredible grilled vegetable salad. On a large oval platter, the chef had arranged a colorful medley of grilled eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers on a thick bed of Arugula. It was lightly topped with crumbled feta cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Even now, my mouth waters when I think of that salad. When I returned home, I concocted my own version of the salad. “Karen's Famous Grilled Vegetables” is now a staple when we entertain at home.

During my trip to Berlin earlier this month, I enjoyed an Arugula (or Rauke) salad every night, garnished with cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Whenever I taste Arugula, I think of Berlin!

The narrow, delicate small-leaf variety is most popular in Europe, although it is seen here in upscale markets, often labeled as Wild Rocket or Baby Arugula. The larger, broader-leaf Arugula has leaves that measure about 4 inches long and is delicious wilted in warm salads.

Arugula is not always easy to find in supermarkets. Upscale markets may have it in the bagged salad section. (You can also find it at some farmers markets.) If you can't find it at your store, be sure to request it from your produce manager. And if you have a home garden, Arugula is a natural to plant in the late spring and summer. But don't plant too much, and watch it carefully. Arugula tends to grow fast and can become a little "tough" if left in the ground too long.

Make your next salad a little different -- make Arugula your “Spice of Life!”

Karen

3 comments:

  1. We love arugula in salads with some Parmigianino Reggio and fresh garden tomatoes. We are lucky in California that we can grow these ourselves. In fact, we planted arugula in our garden about ten years ago. A fresh lawn of tender arugula comes up every spring. We do nothing for it. We just wait for spring, starting about now. It is indeed a gift to have such things sprouting in our gardens.

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  2. I love arugula too Karen; and I'm from the place that calls it "Rocket." I remember my Mum in the UK asking me whether we got "Rocket Salad" in CA and I had no idea what she was talking about. But I throw it in everything now. You cannot beat that crisp, clean bite. And it is waaaaay better than lettuce in a sandwich. The BEST tuna sandwich I've ever had was at Harry's Bar in Rome. A small, tuna sandwich sans mayo served in toasted white bread garnished with olive oil, tomatoes, and arugula. Heaven! Claire Bothwell

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  3. Arugula is my all time favorite green.
    In addition to the description "pepper" I'll add "buttery". To my taste sensation it has a mellow, smooth and yes buttery flavor. It can form the elegant base and ingredient for many a fine salad - and main dish. And it is paired well with a nice (again "buttery") Chardonnay.
    Thank you for giving us all the wonderful information.
    Best wishes - here's to health and enjoyment through our daily doses of fresh fruits & vegetables -- helped, to be sure, by Frieda's!
    Gillian Schultz

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