Thursday, July 18, 2013

ARUGULA: Salads, Pesto, Pizza

Before we get into the many benefits of arugula, also known as "rocket,"  here is a fun little history from Wikipedia.

"Grown as an edible herb in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, salad rocket was mentioned by various classical authors as an aphrodisiac, most famously in a poem long ascribed to Virgil, Moretum, which contains the line: 'the rocket excites the sexual desire of drowsy people.' [English translation]  Some writers assert that for this reason during the Middle Ages it was forbidden to grow rocket in monasteries.  It was listed, however, in a decree by Charlemagne of 802 as one of the pot herbs suitable for growing in gardens.  Gillian Reilly, author of the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, states that because of its reputation as a sexual stimulant, it was 'prudently mixed with lettuce, which was the opposite' (i.e., calming or even soporific).  Reilly continues that 'nowadays rocket is enjoyed innocently in mixed salads, to which it adds a pleasing pungency.'  Arugula was traditionally collected in the wild or grown in home gardens along with such herbs as parsley and basil.  It is now grown commercially from the Veneto in Italy to Iowa in the United States to Brazil and is available for purchase in supermarkets and farmers' markets throughout the world."

The benefits of arugula, in so many regards, are tremendous!  We northern-state gardeners love arugula because we can simply put the seeds in the ground and, in no time at all, we have enough arugula to last most of the summer.  We also like that rabbits, squirrels, deer and other hungry critters do not like arugula.  How great is that?!

When we consider the health benefits of arugula, it really stands out as a great food.

Finally, I love the taste!!  It is peppery and piquant which makes it a delightful contrast to the sweetness of fruits or the tartness of lemons.

In salads it is often served with a simple lemon vinaigrette and Parmesan cheese.  If you'd like, you can add to that whatever is on hand, pitted black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and so on.  For a sweet-salty salad, pair arugula with fruit (e.g. mango, fresh apricot, peach, etc.), crumbled feta cheese and toasted nuts (e.g. almonds or pecans).

Arugula makes a nice pesto to serve on grilled fish or chicken.  Puree 2 cups of packed arugula with 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and 1/4 cup of toasted walnuts.  Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

If you make your own pizza, top your pizza crust with basil pesto, cover that with a handful of arugula, sprinkles of fully-cooked Italian sausage and, finally, shredded mozzarella cheese.  Bake or grill as you wish.

For a delicious summer dinner, put a small mound of arugula in the center of your plates, then top the arugula with grilled steaks and their juices.  Shave Parmesan cheese on top.  Absolutely delicious!!

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