Rock(et) your worldBy Marialisa Calta
Arugula burst upon the American culinary scene sometime in the 1980s, where it appeared with alarming frequency on menus as “(Name of Food Here) served on a bed of arugula.” Usually with goat cheese. A favorite cartoon by New Yorker magazine artist Ed Koren shows a diner, placing his order: “I’ll start with the arugula-and-goat-cheese salad, and then I’ll have the blackened wolf.”
But just because something is a fad doesn’t mean it’s bad, or that it need fade away. Like espresso, salsa and sushi, arugula is here to stay. Blackened wolf? Not so much.
Arugula (also sold as “rocket” and “rucula”) is a brassica — a member of the same family as mustard, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower — and like most brassicas is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of iron. It is extremely low in calories; half a cup has a grand total of three. More importantly for your taste buds, arugula adds that peppery note to dishes that some of us love. According to Gillian Riley, author of “The Oxford Companion to Italian Food” (Oxford University Press, 2007), arugula was, in ancient times, esteemed as an aphrodisiac, “and prudently mixed with lettuce, which was the opposite.”
Arugula is a natural pairing in pasta dishes: The arugula provides bounce and bite, while the pasta offers a mellow counterpoint. Rice and beans perform the same function. It is also a great foil to fried foods. If you are serving a fried appetizer — calamari, clams or popcorn shrimp, for example — that sharp-tasting “bed of arugula” will balance the dish.
The recipes below come from “Fine Cooking Fresh” (The Taunton Press, 2009), a new offering from the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine, as well as from “Taste” by Sybil Kapoor (Whitecap Books, 2003) and from my files.
You can serve arugula now without the least fear of looking like you are trying to be trendy. Just hold the blackened wolf.
SHELLS WITH ARUGULA, FETA AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
1/4 pound arugula, well washed and dried (stem and rip the leaves into smaller pieces if they’re large)
6 ounces feta, crumbled
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (16 to 20), quartered
2 heaping tablespoons drained, thinly sliced, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (or 8 sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated in hot water and thinly sliced)
1 pound dried small or medium shells or orecchiette
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Put the arugula, feta, olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a large bowl. Reserve or refrigerate until needed.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water until just tender. Meanwhile, add the vinegar and oil to the arugula salad, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss well. Drain the pasta, add it to the salad, and toss. Check the seasonings, and serve hot, warm or at room temperature, adding the basil just before serving.
Yield: 4 as a main dish, 8 to 10 as a side
Recipe from “Fine Cooking Fresh” from the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking (Taunton Press, 2009)
FETTUCCINE WITH ARUGULA-WALNUT PESTO
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1/4 pound arugula, washed and spun dry (about 3 lightly packed cups)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup walnut oil
1 pound dried fettuccine
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the walnuts on a rimmed baking pan or in an ovenproof skillet, and bake until toasty smelling; start checking at about 8 minutes. Watch carefully, as they can burn easily. Remove from oven, remove from the pan, and let cool.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
Meanwhile, put the arugula, cheese, toasted walnuts, lemon juice, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt into a food processor, and process until the mixtures is finely round, 30 to 60 seconds. In a measuring cup, combine the olive oil and the walnut oil. With the food processor running, drizzle the oil through the feed tube, and process until the mixture is mostly smooth.
Cook the fettuccine in boiling water until it is just tender. Drain. In a medium bowl, toss the fettuccine with enough of the pesto to generously coat the pasta. Serve and sprinkle with extra cheese, if desired.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Recipe from “Fine Cooking Fresh” from the editors and contributors of Fine Cooking (The Taunton Press, 2009)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 bunches scallions, trimmed and roughly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly diced
3-3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1-3/4 pounds shelled peas
1/2 pound arugula, plus a few extra leaves for serving
1-1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream, plus more for serving
salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, heat the oil and gently fry the scallions and garlic until soft. Add the broth, bring to a boil, then add the peas. Return to the boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the peas are very soft. Stir in the arugula, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour the mixture into the bowl of a blender or food processor and puree (careful — the hot liquid will spurt up!). Add the cream, and season to taste. Chill or reheat, depending on whether you wish to serve the soup cold or hot. Swirl in a spoonful of cream, add a few arugula leaves, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Recipe from “Taste” by Sybil Kapoor (Whitecap Books, 2003)
WILTED ARUGULA AND WHITE BEANS
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans white kidney beans (cannellini beans), rinsed and drained
1/2 cup vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
8 cups arugula
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cook the garlic and shallot, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and broth, and cook until the broth is absorbed, about 8 minutes. Stir gently every once in a while.
Meanwhile, put the arugula in a large shallow bowl. Spoon the hot beans on top, and toss so that the greens wilt. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper, and add a squeeze of lemon juice.
MEATY VARIATION: If desired, fry up 1/4 pound chopped bacon or pancetta (Italian bacon) until crispy. Drain and add to the dish at the end.
Yield: about 6 servings
(Recipe from my files)
Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.