What is Arugula?
Arugula is tender leafy green, a member of the mustard family – wonderful as a salad addition but is also also excellent in cooked dishes such as pastas and sautés, and as a bed for grilled, seared, or roasted seafood and meats. It is a spicy little leaf, which some describe as bitter and others characterize as having a “peppery-mustardy” flavor. It is also known as rugola, rucola, roquette, garden rocket, Mediterranean rocket, salad rocket, Roman rocket, or Italian cress (the rockets being a corruption of the French roquette).
Arugula’s deliciously pungent flavor may come as a surprise if you’ve never tasted it — it packs a lot more zip than most other greens. And if you are familiar with this peppery, nutty leaf, it’s likely you know how much depth and character it brings to any salad, whether alone or mixed with other greens.
Baby arugula is a label you’ll often see for young, mild and tender leaves that are a lighter shade of green and don’t yet have the pronounced lobes of mature arugula. Baby arugula is perfect for salad. More mature arugula will be a darker shade of green and have lobed leaves. The darker the green, the stronger the flavor. Look for a smooth and even coloring. Steer clear of any leaves that look leathery or show signs of yellowing. Wild arugula is much more peppery than most cultivated leaves.
How to Choose and Store Arugula
Choose arugula based on what you plan to do with it. For salads in which arugula is the main green, look for the youngest and mildest leaves available; they won’t have the pronounced lobes of older arugula and will be a lighter shade of green. Sometimes you’ll find them packaged as baby arugula. When you get these leaves home, drop them in a bowl of cool water to both rehydrate and wash them. Spin them dry and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge. Be sure the leaves are as dry as possible and don’t overstuff the bag. A good trick for keeping young greens fresh is to fill the bag no more than half full, then fill the rest of the bag with air (like a balloon) and tie it off, keeping the air inside with the greens.
1 small bunch mature arugula = 6 to 7 oz. = 3-1/2 to 4 loosely packed cups. 4 oz. baby arugula = 3-1/2 to 4 loosely packed cups
Arugula should be thoroughly washed in a few changes of water, especially if the leaves are more mature. Arugula grows in sandy soil and tends to trap a fair bit of it. Taste a leaf before you continue with the recipe to be sure you’ve gotten rid of all the grit, which would mar that sassy flavor.
You can substitute most any green for arugula, but the closest matches are Belgian endive, escarole, and dandelion greens, watercress, mâche or other spicy greens
Like most salad greens, Arugula is very low in calories and is high in vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, and magnesium. A 1/2 cup serving is two calories
How to grow Arugula
Arugula is one of those great, simple greens to grow at home. Sow the seeds in a sunny location in succession plantings (approximately every 20 to 30 days) from early spring to fall. Arugula grows fast.
Set plants in the sunny garden in early spring for spring harvest or late summer for fall harvest. Plants prefer the cooler days of spring or fall. Like any leafy green, arugula requires a rich soil to make its best growth. Before planting, add compost to the soil. Then apply a timed-release fertilizer at the rate directed on the label for lettuce or other leafy greens. Space transplants 12 to 18 inches apart. It is not fussy at all, although too much drought and summer heat will cause the leaves to be smaller and more “peppery”.
When flowering begins in late spring or early summer, the flavor becomes more intense. At some point it may be stronger than you like, which means its time to take it out and wait for the next cool season to plant (early spring or fall). Pick only the outer leaves, so the plant remains intact and usable for weeks to come. This cut-and-come again harvest keeps the plant yielding lots of leaves until the plants flower. Harvest often to encourage new growth.
This plant does go to “seed” fairly quickly. But use the flowers in your salads and collect seeds for future plantings. And if you make your “succession” plantings, then the new plants will be ready as the older plants are going to seed.
Our Top 10 Recipes Using Arugula
in no particular order…
- Arugula Pesto
- Arugula, Pear and Pancetta Salad
- Arugula, Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Pizza
- Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel and Parmesan
- Orecchiette & Arugula Casserole
- Feta Cheese Bread with Arugula and Olive
- Spaghetti with Arugula
- Wild Mushroom Soup with Crispy Serrano Ham and Arugula
- Swordfish Panini with Arugula and Lemon Aioli
- Raspberry-Strawberry-Arugula Salad with Nutmeg Ricotta Topping