For a peppery bite in your food, it’s time to turn to arugula. This leafy green takes on a more spicy character in the summer heat. And arugula’s firm leaves make it suitable for everything from salads to stir-fries. Here’s a quick guide to buying, storing and eating it:
When shopping for arugula, look for firm, crisp leaves.
“When you take a leaf and bend it, it will crack,” says local farmer Lou Pasquale of Il Giardino Organico.
When Pasquale is harvesting arugula for the Vineyard farmers market at Blackstone and Shaw avenues, he also looks for a deep green color and a nice scent.
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“Break it a little bit, and crush it with your finger,” Pasquale says. “It’s got its own definite aroma — something like an herb.”
At home, wrap arugula in damp paper towels, tuck it in a plastic bag, then store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or keep baby arugula in its plastic container for just a few days.
When prepping it for a meal, discard any leaves that aren’t crisp and green. Trim off the stems, then dunk the leaves in a large bowl of cold water. Swish the leaves around to rid them of any grit, Aliza Green writes in “Field Guide to Produce: How to Identify, Select, and Prepare Virtually Every Fruit and Vegetable at the Market” (Quirk Books, $14.95). Gently spread the leaves out on paper towels to dry.
In southern Europe, arugula grows wild and is treated “like regular lettuce,” says Pasquale, who is Italian. “I eat it straight with olive oil and red wine vinegar.”
He also eats it in pasta al verde, a mixture of hot pasta with olive oil, butter, chopped arugula and parsley, and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
At this time of year, the intensity of locally grown arugula may need to be tempered. In a sandwich, layer it with peaches and basil (for sweetness), goat cheese (for tangy flavor and creamy texture), and prosciutto (for salty meatiness).
For a salad, dress it with lemon vinaigrette, then top it with slices of chicken and a reduction of balsamic vinegar and sweet cherries. Crostini with brie cheese adds crunch and creaminess.
Or toss handfuls of it on pizza with fennel-flavored sausage.
Want even more ideas? Look at the recommendations in “The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs,” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown and Co., $35). They list combinations such as “arugula + cucumber + feta cheese + mint.” Or “bacon + arugula + egg + pork belly.”
Armed with these ingredients, you choose whether to eat these combinations as a salad, sandwich, or other dish.
PEACHES, PARMESAN AND ARUGULA
3 ripe peaches ½ cup basil puree (see below) 1 cup shaved Parmesan 2 handfuls arugula, washed 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt to taste
Basil puree 1 bunch basil 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan ¼ cup olive oil
To make the basil puree, first bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove stems from the basil, then plunge the leaves into the boiling salted water for 8 seconds, remove immediately and shock in ice water. (This helps set the color.) Squeeze excess water from basil and chop into smaller pieces.
Place the basil in a blender with the nuts and cheese. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in enough olive oil — 1-2 ounces — to get a smooth puree.
To assemble the salad, first quarter the peaches.
Pool a spoonful or two of the puree on a plate. Arrange 3 wedges of peach upright on the puree. Rest a few cheese shavings over the peaches.
Gently toss the arugula with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and arrange it decoratively over the Parmesan. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 220 calories, 18 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 11 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 6 g protein.
The Wichita Eagle—07/13/10
For balsamic-cherry reduction:
1 cup pitted sweet cherries ¼ cup balsamic vinegar ¾ teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 heaping cups of arugula 1½-2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced About 8 oz. brie cheese 8 crostini (see note)
Combine cherries, balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, until the cherries are softened and vinegar is syrupy and sweet. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss the salad greens with about ¾ cup of the dressing. (Reserve the rest to pass at the table.)
Divide the dressed arugula among four plates. Top with slices of chicken. Drizzle some of the balsamic-cherry reduction on top of each salad.
Spread brie on crostini, place 2 crostini on each salad, and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Note: To make crostini, brush baguette slices with olive oil and bake in a 350-degree oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes.
The Wichita Eagle—07/13/10
PEACH, PROSCIUTTO AND ARUGULA SANDWICHES
2 ciabatta dinner rolls, split and toasted Goat cheese Salt ½ large peach, sliced thinly (see note) Arugula leaves Fresh basil leaves Prosciutto, sliced
Exact measurements aren’t important for this mini sandwich. The idea is to mix the tangy, salty, sweet, peppery, and meaty flavors to your liking. Spread goat cheese on each of the cut sides of the toasted rolls. (You’ll end up with goat cheese on four pieces of bread.) Sprinkle a little salt on top of the goat cheese.
Layer peach slices on the bottom halves of the rolls, on top of the goat cheese. Layer a mixture of about 3 parts arugula and 1 part basil leaves on top of the peaches. Feel free to pile on the greens.
Top the greens with prosciutto slices. Close up the sandwiches and eat immediately. Makes 1-2 servings.
Note: The peach you use can be white or yellow. Just make sure it is ripe and very sweet.
The Wichita Eagle—07/13/10