Thursday, May 27, 2010

Home Grown Greens/Herbs: Arugula (Rocket)

Arugula or Eruca sativa is another herb/green that pays back abundantly for a little investment in time and effort. Arugula probably originates from the Mediterranean region and is called many names such as rucola, ruka, rocket, etc. It is an easily grown annual plant and one whiff or taste of the leaves will tell you that it belongs to the Brassica family along with cabbage, broccoli, mustard, etc. The peppery leaves, pale and pretty purple-veined cream colored flowers as well as the immature seed pods are edible either cooked or raw. The young leaves are milder; as the leaves mature, their flavor intensifies but are still tasty cooked as heat renders them mild. It is absolutely fantastic in sandwiches, pizza, pasta, pesto, and of course salads.

I love Arugula for its many qualities - the peppery leaves, the abundant harvests, the ease with which it grows, etc. It freely self-seeds so that once you plant it the first time, you will not have to plant it again. If you don't want them to naturalize, you will have to collect the seed pods before they burst. The seeds can then be planted exactly where you would like them. I am not so diligent to collect the seeds on time and find them growing everywhere which I don't mind at all. You can always pull out the young plants and transplant them. Although they are supposed to be annual, my plants from spring were still going strong in our mild climate in winter. I was going to pull them out as they looked a bit scraggly in the fall, but decided to just cut them back. I am glad I didn't pull them out because I harvested lots of leaves and flowers throughout winter.

Arugula is quite at home in the various cuisines of many countries around the Mediterranean. Here are a few recipes using this wonderful herb: Lemony Rice Salad, Pasta With Roasted Vegetables, Rainbow Salad, Autumn Gratin, Roasted Veggie Sandwiches, etc.

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