In Roman times Arugula was grown for both it's leaves and the seed. The seed was used for flavoring oils. On another interesting note, Rocket or Arugula seed has been used as an ingredient in aphrodisiac concoctions dating back to the first century, AD. (Cambridge World History of Food).
Part of a typical Roman meal was to offer a salad of greens, frequently Arugula ( spelled Arugola), romaine, chicory, mallow and lavender and seasoned with a "cheese sauce for lettuce"
This 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 performs best in spring to early summer. After that time, plant it under the shade of an "airy" tree (not dense shade), or under shade cloth. It is not fussy at all, although too much drought and summer heat will cause the leaves to be smaller and more "peppery".
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.
To harvest simply pick the young leaves and the plant will keep generating new ones for months. Older leaves are a bit tougher and hotter.
The flowers are small, white with dark centers and can be used in the salad for a light piquant flavor.
Don't forget to allow some of the flowers to go to seed so you can plant again in the fall, or for the next year.
Rinse the leaves in cool water and dry on paper toweling. Wrap leaves tightly in plastic or a zip lock bag. Best if used within two days.
You can substitute water cress for a simliar peppery flavor. You can also use fresh baby spinach (but the flavor will not be the same). Also dandelion greens have a tart flavor but a bit more bitter.
Our featured recipe is from Chef Ken Calascione former Chef/Owner of La Traviata, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Please visit Ken's site La Cucina Eoliana E Siciliana.
Cut off the stems and leafy tops of the fennel, then finely slice the fennel into thin rounds and spread the slices over the arugula.
Pour the lemon juice over the fennel and arugula and drizzle with more olive oil and grind more pepper on top.
Shave the parmigiano with a potato peeler and cover the salad with the cheese, then serve.
Fill a large bowl with ice and add water, set aside. Fill a medium sized saucepan with water and the 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and bring it to a boil. Add the arugula and as soon as the water returns to a boil, remove the arugula with a slotted spoon and place it immediately into the ice water to stop the cooking process.
Transfer the arugula to several layers of paper toweling or clean kitchen towels and allow to drain. Roll up the towels and squeeze as much moisture as possible from the arugula.
Place the arugula in a blender jar and add the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the pepper and puree until the mixture looks like thick pesto. There will be a small amount of oil on the surface. Use immediately or transfer the mixture to a jar with a tight fitting lid if you are going to store it. This will keep for at least 5 days, refrigerated. Before using, stir the pesto to incorporate the oil accumulated at the top.
Serve the pesto over some freshly cooked pasta or boiled potatoes.