Pick of the Month, May ‘08

May 19, 2008 · 4 comments

I’ve been trying to remember the first time I ate arugula, and am coming up short. I wonder if, the first time I did consume it, I didn’t really discern the unique flavor of this exquisite leafy green, crediting it to another component, or to the dish as a whole. I do remember inquiring once about the “rocket” listed as an ingredient in a salad — and since that is an alternate name for the lettuce, that meal could be the event of meeting.

But the details are not important (then why the rambling?) — because, in the few years since, arugula has become one of my all-time favorite greens. It has enough power over me to force a menu choice, just by its presence. I have made dishes that include it, simply because it is part of the name (even as a secondary prepositional element). In fact, a meal last week was selected for that reason, and it was good enough to be the subject of an upcoming Recession Meals post (the arugula was the most expensive ingredient in the recipe, and since we didn’t use the whole box, I’ve been eating it in salads all week).

Often times referred to as “peppery,” arugula is quite strong in flavor, and while also classified at times as a “bitter green,” the bitterness is not pronounced. To be honest, I don’t really think it’s all that peppery either, but can’t quite put my finger on a better-suiting adjective. It just tastes like arugula. Native to the Mediterranean region, it’s a spring-weather green, preferring cool temperatures. It has a unique ability to support the flavors of a dish, regardless of whether the contrasting ingredients are strong or subtle. For instance, it can just as easily top a gorgonzola pizza as provide the base of a roasted beet salad (like the scrumptulescent one we consumed last week at 5&10). In both scenarios, the arugula sends the dish over-the-top.

About a year ago I made arugula pesto, and served it with grilled sausages. After a quick flip through my recipe book left me empty-handed, a google search revealed my source for the recipe: Martha. If you like grilled sausages (and really, who doesn’t, except for my vegetarian friends?), and are interested in a new flavor to give them a unique punch, try this pesto.

But if you’ve never had it (or, like me prior to my obsession, can’t really remember whether you’ve had it or not), and are reticent to put forth the effort to make a pesto, look for the next Recession Meals post, hopefully coming out within a few days, and try the pasta. You’ll still need to purchase a few ounces of it (cheaper if you can buy it buy the bunch at a local farmer’s market), but it’ll play a more background role than in the pesto. Or, if even that is too much of a gamble (and I can completely relate to a week that it might be), then experiment at your next visit to a good Italian restaurant — they are quite likely to have it in a pasta dish, salad, or topping a brick-oven pizza. Make sure you chomp on a solo piece to isolate the flavor, and see if it’s not wholly unique, intriguing, and delightful.

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