Meet the new kid in my neighborhood (a.k.a. my garden) … arugula. As you can see, the cool, wet spring we have had here in Iowa has made this newcomer feel very welcome. It won’t be long and we will hit the heat and humidity and arugula will have to leave so the tomatoes can take over.
Arugula is often described as “peppery” and “bitter”. The first is an accurate adjective. When I pinch the stems to harvest, the aroma of pepper reaches my nose quickly, a lot like cutting chives and the resulting sweet onion fragrance. When you think of the smell of pepper, think not only of fresh ground black pepper, but also a hint of fresh-cut green pepper. I think “bitter” is a harsh adjective. “Pungent” is a little better. “Piquant” seems to be the best but nobody uses it! “Piquant” (pronounced pee-kahnt) means “agreeably sharp in taste or flavor, pleasantly biting”. Anyway … when you bite it, it bites back … but just a little.
Before this year, my husband and I had only limited exposure to this leafy green … mixed in a few salads or on top of an occasional pizza (and I do mean occasional because greens on pizza is not in my husband’s comfort zone). We were visiting some friends who had just built the most beautiful raised-bed garden and they sent us home with some fresh picked arugula insisting that we hadn’t really given arugula a fair judgement unless we had tried it fresh from the garden and picked young. They were right. As with most foods, the fresher the better and picking before it gets big and tough means delicious.
I’m sure there are ways to cook the bigger, tougher leaves into wonderful dishes … I’ll experiment with that another day … but for now, we have what we need for fresh salads. I wasn’t sure how much my husband would like it so I introduced it with something I knew he’d love: pasta. I had heard that a piquant green like arugula was best with a simple dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and a nice amount of shredded parmesan cheese.
So that’s it.
That’s your recipe.
Seriously, that’s it.
Get the freshest arugula you can. Farmer’s markets are bursting with fresh greens. Look for smaller, tender leaves and ask if you can try some. A vendor worth buying from will be excited for you to try his/her produce. If you buy it at the store, again look for smaller leaves. It is sometimes called “Rocket” or “Baby Arugula”.
Crisp and wash it. Fill your sink with cold water and throw in a handful of ice cubes.
Lay it out on paper towels or use a salad-spinner to dry the leaves. If the leaves are wet when you dress them, the oil and juice will not adhere to them.
Drizzle the greens with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper (use Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper if at all possible) and toss to evenly coat greens. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese and croutons (optional).
If you are like my husband, you are wondering “Why there are flowers on this salad?” The answer is “It’s pretty, it adds flavor, and it makes people ask questions.” The flowers are chive blossoms and yes, they do have a very mild flavor.
If you really want measurements, I will do my best …
Simple Arugula Salad
4-6 cups arugula, loosely packed
1-2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
2-3 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (more or less)
fresh chive blossoms (optional)
Wash and dry (on paper towels or in salad spinner) arugula and place in serving bowl. When ready to serve, drizzle one tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice over the arugula and sprinkle with half of the salt and pepper. Toss to coat. The leaves should be coated but not drenched.
Add more olive oil, lemon, and/or pepper as needed. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and taste again. Add more salt if needed. Serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings.
As I mentioned earlier, we had this salad with a pasta dish. In keeping with the lemon flavor, I made a ravioli with Italian sausage and a butter-garlic-lemon sauce. I think it was the first time I ever heard my husband ask if I wanted any more of the salad.
He finished the bowl and said I should write about it.
And to think, he was worried I was taking garden space away from the tomatoes to plant “that green stuff”.
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