Arugula and I first met in a dimly lit restaurant on the edge of an Umbrian town that sat on an ancient stone as if organically formed. The pizza that was served was a welcome reprieve from the usual pasta dinners we enjoyed while in Italy.
I was nearly twenty, and yet somehow I had managed to live that long without enjoying the peppery bite of arugula. My memory is unclear as to how or why I ordered the pizza I did, but it turned out to be one of the highlights on my culinary timeline. What arrived to my table was a pizza whose blackened crust extended beyond the plate. The tomato sauce was perfectly simple and floated amid islands of mozzarella. Piled high on top was bright and dramatically pointed leaves of arugula, or rocket as it was referred to there.
Since that fateful night, there is hardly a week that goes by that I don’t enjoy a healthy portion of this fragrant and delightfully spicy green. As with all greens, arugula is very low in calories and packed with plenty of vitamin A and C. So I generously add a handful to salads, top on sandwiches, toss into a simple warm pasta dinner, and process into a powerful pesto.
It’s a member of the mustard family and with one bite you’ll recognize that warming, nearly nasal cleansing heat. Spring arugula offers a softer bite than the sun soaked late summer variety. I like them both. Loosely wrapped in a damp paper towel and wrapped in plastic, arugula can last 3 days in the fridge, but mine rarely does as I use it almost immediately.
This arugula-rich dish I have for you today uses the zesty green in two places. Half is blended to make a flavorful pesto made bright with a bit of lemon and the rest is tossed with just warm lentils and sweet, grilled asparagus. The whole dish is brought together with an aged and salty pecorino. It’s healthy, flavorful, and destined to be a favorite spring dish.
by Ashley Rodriguez