Arugula is an aromatic, peppery-flavored salad green. Also known as rocket, roquette, rugula and rucola, it’s delightfully pungent leaves have been cultivated in the Mediterranean since time was recorded. As such, arugula is a perennial favorite in Italian cooking. Arugula is very low in calories and is high in vitamins A and C. A 1/2 cup serving is two calories. This is one of those great, simple greens to grow at home.
Arugula should be planted in the garden in early spring or fall. Sow the seeds in a sunny location in succession plantings (approximately every 20 to 30 days) from early spring to fall. It will grow in a rosette about a foot wide and equally tall. Like leaf lettuce, mustard greens, and collards, arugula stretches skyward in hot weather, blooming and setting seeds. You can pull it up when plant start to send up a bloom stalk from the center, or you can continue harvesting the leaves until they taste too strong.
Some gardeners cut the plants back to get another harvest as it tries to grow back. The bloom stalks may grow 24 to 36 inches tall and have little white flowers on top. These are edible and look pretty in a salad. Flowering signals that the season is ending for arugula and you can replace it with a warm weather crop, unless you want to try cutting it back and eating it just a little longer.
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.
Pick the whole plant, especially if you planted the seeds too closely together (thin back the plants to 4-6 inches apart), or harvest the outer leaves near the base to spur regrowth. As the plant matures, the leaves become bitter. Once the plant bolts and begins to flower, pull it to make room for something else. Or leave it in place. The flowers are pretty (and make a nice garnish for food), and arugula will reseed itself, saving you work next spring.
In salads: Young arugula leaves are great in salad, especially when you add a sweet element, like oranges, use a honey-based dressing, or mix in a milder green.
Healthy eating tip: Snip a few arugula leaves from your windowsill pot and stir them into a purchased bean or pasta salad for an easy and healthy lunch. A one ounce serving of raw arugula contains only seven calories and is a good source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate.
In sandwiches: The green’s robust flavor holds up well in a sandwich. Arugula and roast beef is one classic combination. Since I eat a lot of egg sandwiches around here, I love to tuck in a few of the peppery leaves between the egg and the toast.
Cooking with arugula: If arugula becomes overgrown, it is best cooked to mellow its sharp bitter flavor. I like to sauté chopped greens in olive oil and garlic until they are wilted and then use them as a bruschetta topping with grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. I also like to stir chopped leaves into homemade soup right before serving to add a bright, herbaceous bite to the broth.
Spicy jelly, extra sharp cheddar, sweet apples, and cinnamon honey butter with arugula grilled cheese:
Spicy jelly, extra sharp cheddar, sweet apples, and cinnamon honey butter, all melted together with a little fresh arugula on thick crusty bread, makes the most flavor bomb grilled cheese you will ever try!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
4 slices thick, Italian bread (I used a crusty Tuscan loaf from the bakery, and sliced it myself)
4 Tablespoons cinnamon honey butter (I used store bought, but you can use homemade as well)
1 large apple, sliced thin
4-6 ounces extra sharp white cheddar
4 Tablespoons Hot Pepper Jelly (or store bought spicy jelly!)
1 cup fresh arugula
Heat a griddle to 350° or a skillet to medium-high heat.
Smear the cinnamon honey butter on both sides of all four slices of bread. Place the bread on the heated griddle. Toast until golden brown and crispy, about 3-4 minutes. Careful not to burn it!
Flip the bread. Reduce the heat slightly to about 250° or medium-low.
On two of the slices, top with the cheddar cheese and apple slices. Drop spoonful’s of the hot jelly across the top. Cover with a large cover, careful not to smush your sandwich, just enough to melt the cheese well, for 3-4 minutes, depending how thick your cheese slices are.
Top with arugula, it will stick to the jelly, place the other two slices on top, serve, and devour!