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May 23, 2007 | Frank Bonanno
In trying to promote the discussion of locally driven menus, I look first to my home
garden and farmers’ markets. Right now Denver is enjoying a great, wet, productive,
The first week in April, I planted some Arugula (rocket) in my home garden, and I’ve
been able to cook with it for weeks now. It’s one of my favorite greens—arugula has a
nutty, peppery flavor that enhances pastas, fish, salads, and sandwiches; its deep green
brings visual depth to dishes; arugula grows easily here in Denver (it’s bi-annual and selfseeding); it’s rampant in farmers markets; it’s both exotic and commonplace.
If growing arugula–snip it while it’s small and low to the ground and keep snipping for
greater yield. I’ll let some plants go to blossom to use the purple and white flowers for
If purchasing it– Look for bags or bunches with as few stems as possible and leaves no
bigger than your thumb. Know that smaller leaves make for a nuttier (rather than
peppery) flavor profile and a crisp (rather than leggy) texture. Smaller is better.
Purchase lots—it reduces by more than half when heated, and purees to nothing. .
To use it fresh—Add a few leafs of arugula to any sandwich for a “wow this is really
great, what’s in it?” reaction. Toss a handful of arugula into salad—a regular dinner
salad comes immediately to mind—for the same response. Even better, though, is the
hearty impact it will have on a fruit salad. Don’t toss it into the fruit–the citrus acid will
deplete the chlorophyll and turn arugula black—but scatter it over the top for the contrast
of the deep green color against bright fruit colors and arugula’s spice next to fruit’s
Arugula pesto makes super dip for pita chips, carrots, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli or
almonds. It’s nice smeared over flaky, white fish (halibut, fluke, bass . . ), and it elevates
pasta when tossed in with just a little bit of the pasta water. To make arugula pesto:
In a blender, toss 1 finely chopped clove of garlic, with ½ cup extra virgin olive oil.
Slowly add 1 cup parmigiano reggiano and a half cup of toasted pine nuts (or any other
mild nut). Then add about 1 cup of arugula, a handful of parsley (to retain the
greenness), and the zest of one lemon (not the juice which will blacken the green). Salt
and pepper to taste.
(By the way, a sea salt or kosher salt—which is cleaner, more naturally “salty,” and often
retains the subtle flavor of the area from which it is derived–is always preferable to
For a fabulous, simple, but very impressive pasta:
Cook 1 pound of linguini or parciatelli. Three minutes before the pasta reaches the al
dente stage: put about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water in a sauté pan. In a separate pan,
sauté 2 smashed garlic cloves in ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add 2 tablespoons
butter and about a teaspoon of chile flakes. Toss in 2 tablespoons of water from the pasta
pot and ¼ cup of parmigiano reggiano. About now, the pasta should be finished cooking. Turn off all flames, drain the pasta, put it in a larger bowl and toss with the contents of
the sauté pan. Then, add about 2 cups arugula and serve.
Arugula will also enhance fish if served beneath it, placed there in a heap at the moment
just before serving (so as not to wilt entirely) with a generous dash of sea salt.
Wine—The berry notes in a montepulciano will enhance arugula. The crispy pearness of
a pinot grigio will do the same.