Rocket (Arugula) in My Pockets

For the brunch-y spinach-chickpea pie I made over the weekend, I needed three bunches of spinach. (When cooked, the shrinkage is amazing.) Boy was I surprised while prepping my pie on Sunday to discover that I had purchased three bunches of arugula instead.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a lover of the peppery green with a name for every day of the week (eruca, jirjir, rocket, roqueta, roquette, ruchetta, rucola) -- but three bunches? That's a lot of perishable greens on my hands. You know the rule: Use it or lose it -- and fast.

An embarrassment of arugula riches. (Kim O'Donnel)

To get the arugula party started, I used about half of one bunch in a salad of mixed greens and smoked trout, and that turned out great. But I could hardly rest, with those 2.5 bunches staring right at me.

What to do, I ask you? Should I try my hand at a risotto-style barley with citrus and arugula from Heidi Swanson's "Supernatural Cooking or a rustic onion tart with goat cheese from Deborah Madison's "Local Flavors"?

I pored over a small mountain of cookbooks, which offered rocket-y salad ideas galore (nah, I want something hot), more and more pizza ideas, goat cheese and pecorino pairings, but nothing was really hitting the spot.

Meanwhile, I've learned that arugula is a member of the cruciferous family, it's rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, and it even dates to Biblical times. According to Clifford A. Wright in his "Mediterranean Vegetables," "Both the Mishna and Talmud, Jewish holy writings that date from the first to fifth centures A.D., mention arugula's uses as a food and medicine." It was also considered a veritable aphrodisiac by ancient Greek physicians: "Both Galen and Dioscorides recommended eating arugula seeds to increase semen production," Wright writes.

But back to the drawing board. Young Gansie over at Endless Simmer inspired me with her own version of arugula pesto, and then I hit the right note with a blurby ad hoc recipe for spaghetti con rucola e ricotta in "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" by Elizabeth Schneider. One of my favorite things about Schneider's tome is her "Pros Propose" section tucked at the end of each vegetable chapter, which includes annotated recipes from chefs and cookbook writers; this one, scribbled below, comes from Brit chef duo Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, of The River Café in London.

The verdict: This one is a keeper. I solved my arugula dilemma, using nearly every leaf in my pile and I discovered a lovely new way to slurp spaghetti. I love how the arugula pesto works with the ricotta - the result is creamy but not heavy, sporting lots of brilliant green color and plenty of peppery, rocket notes. Plus, the entire job takes less than an hour. Be sure to make enough for next-day lunch leftovers, ya hear?

But still I want to hear from you: What would you have done in my rocket shoes? Share your tricks in the comments area below.

Today is chat day; Join me at noon ET for What's Cooking.

Spaghetti con Rucola e Ricotta
Notes from "Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini" by Elizabeth Schneider


Approximately 2 bunches of arugula, thoroughly washed and spun dry
3-5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1-3 tablespoons olive oil
Heat of chiles: 1/2 fresh red chile of choice, seeded, or 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Note: This yields about 1 cup pesto, which is enough for one pound of spaghetti.

Sauce and pasta:
1/2 pound-1 pound spaghetti
4 ounces ricotta cheese, lightly beaten
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, for garnish

Chop arugula and reserve half.

In a large skillet, heat garlic in olive oil for 15 seconds. Add half of the arugula, toss with tongs to coat, cover and allow to wilt about two minutes.

Transfer wilted arugula to the bowl of a food processor and puree. Add half of the reserved arugula and blend to combine. Add chile, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust accordingly. Add oil gradually so that pesto is somewhere between sauce and chutney.

When pasta is cooked, drain and reserve a few ounces of pasta water. Place pasta in skillet (with a little oil to lubricate) and begin adding pesto, gradually. (You will probably have some leftover pesto.) Use tongs to help coat pasta, over low heat. Fold in ricotta and remaining chopped arugula. Season as needed and serve with Parmigiano.

Optional: A handful of halved grape tomatoes. Luscious!

By Kim ODonnel |  March 25, 2008; 7:56 AM ET Seasonal Produce , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Yum - can't wait to try this. I made a Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza (from Giada but found it on Smitten Kitchen) last weekend -- it's finished off with a layer of arugula.

Posted by: Valerie | March 25, 2008 8:49 AM

I love rocket! One of my favorite ways to eat it is to top an eggy frittata with a bunch of lightly dressed arugula and some shaved Parmigiano. It's divine.

Posted by: Astroboy | March 25, 2008 10:02 AM

I'm gonna try this with buckwheat soba for my gluten-free husband! Thanks, Kim.

l love this blog!

Posted by: maryam | March 25, 2008 11:20 AM

I am going to try that spaghetti recipe, it sounds wonderful. Great use of arugula, can't wait to see how it turns out.


Posted by: Rachel | March 25, 2008 1:38 PM

i make salad dressing with it. joy of cooking has a salad dressing recipe that uses watercress; i just switched it with arugla. even tho' it bites i love it.

Posted by: quark | March 26, 2008 4:44 PM

What I wouldn't give for a couple of bunches now! My fave is adapted from BLT pasta from Food and Wine's Pasta book: Saute chopped bacon (I use Canadian) and drain, add halved cherry tomatoes with a little butter and olive oil and saute briefly, toss in 2 bunches of arugula, salt and (of course, freshly ground) pepper. Meanwhile, cook whatever pasta you like, and add a bit of the pasta water to the arugula mix while draining, then toss together. Heaven!

Posted by: Barbara | March 27, 2008 2:36 PM

I got so into my BLT reverie, I forgot to pass on my favorite arugula use: in Turkey, it is always served as a salad with grilled or fried fish, dressed simply with fresh chopped garlic, fresh lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Absolute heaven (especially if you're eating it on the shores of the Mediterranean).

Posted by: Barbara | March 27, 2008 2:41 PM

use it or lose it, unless you have a cold frame with arugula as I do. Cold frames are easy to make. Just use wood screws to make a four sided base with boards about 2 inches thick and at least 6 iches wide. Place some good top soil inside, plant the seed and cover the box with and old window or glass door. Don't forget to water. arugula loves the spring and fall weather. It can be planted in the fall and under the cold frame, it will last all winter.

Posted by: crystal | March 27, 2008 7:23 PM

There is a recipe in Sally Schneider's "The Improvisational Cook" called "Parmesean Cream Soup." She brings a cup of chicken broth to the barest simmer and then whisks in an egg mixed with 3 tbsp (I think) Parmigiano until a cream-like consistency is achieved. She recommends dressing it with a drizzle of olive oil. It was outstanding--the one time it came out right. I've never been able to get it right since. Either it doesn't congeal of the eggs scramble. ANYWAY, the point that I was going to make is that it seems to cry out for roasted corn and shredded arugula. Thoughts, anyone?

Posted by: chris | March 28, 2008 11:22 AM

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