Also known as rocket, this pleasantly peppery green, grown along the Mediterranean since Roman times, has recently become popular around the world. The characteristic sword-shaped, deeply notched leaves are usually no more than 2 to 3 inches long. Some arugula varieties boast leaves that are oval in shape, with fewer notches. Fresh arugula can be found in the market in spring through autumn.
Add arugula to other, milder greens for a salad with a nicely sharp, spicy edge. Arugula is very popular in Italy, where it is also used in pasta sauces and to top pizzas hot from the oven. Arugula can also be stirred into soups, folded in potato salads, made into a flavorful pesto, or wilted to serve as a bed for roasted or grilled meat, fish and poultry.
Look for long, slender, young leaves with a vibrant green color and deeply notched or oval-shaped leaves. Whether loose-leaved or still bunched, avoid any with wet or bruised leaves.
Wrap the stems of bunched arugula in damp paper towels. Store both leaves and bunches in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Handle arugula with care to avoid bruising its delicate leaves. Trim the thick stalk ends, if needed. Arugula bunches can trap soil and grit, so wash them well before serving. Immerse the leaves in cold water and then lift them out, letting the grit settle at the bottom. Repeat as necessary. Dry thoroughly in a salad spinner or gently shake them in a kitchen towel.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, by Tasha DeSerio & Jodi Liano (Weldon Owen, 2010).
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