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Spirited Arugula

Monday 18th June 2007

Spirited Arugula

Despite its humble origins as peasant food, arugula has acquired a reputation more recently in our culture as an exotic and gourmet green with a mysterious and changeable flavour.

Part of the mystery might come from the name itself. In Canada, by calling arugula ‘arugula,’ we use an Italian name, even though you’ll also hear arugula referred to as ‘rucola’ or ‘ruchetta’ in Italy. The Flemish call it ‘krapkool.’ In France it's ‘roquette.’ And in Great Britain it’s ‘rocket.’

Augula’s taste is no less elusive. A member of the mustard family, arugula has a stronger taste than mustard greens or turnip greens, and more closely resembles watercress, though it is less peppery and more florid in flavour than watercress is. Arugula performs best in spring to early summer. and then in the fall. After that time, plant it under the shade of an "airy" tree (not dense shade), or under shade cloth. During the heat of the summer, too much drought and harsh sunlight will cause the leaves to be smaller and more "peppery".
This plant does go to "seed" fairly quickly. If you grow it yourself, 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.

Native to the Mediterranean and Asian region, arugula has long been standard fare among peasants throughout southern France, Greece and especially Italy, where it is picked wild.

In fact, going way back in history, part of a typical Roman meal was to offer a salad of greens, frequently arugula, romaine, chicory, mallow and lavender, and seasoned with a "cheese sauce for lettuce."

The language of flowers was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, usually of a romantic nature, and thereby allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. Given arugula’s high-spirited nature, it is not surprising that it symbolized rivalry between lovers.

Here in Canada, until the early 1990’s, arugula could only be found in specialty stores and ethnic produce markets. Since then, it has vaulted itself into a vast array of gourmet salad and pasta recipes. You can also enjoy arugula on its own, mixed with fresh tomatoes or on a sandwich. For a delicious taste sensation, try making a tomato, avocado and arugula sandwich. It also mixes well with citrus, especially oranges.

Since arugula is highly perishable, it is best kept in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer. Arugula leaves often turn yellow quickly, but they hold their flavour well. The leaves can be sandy and should be carefully washed.

Arugula is a cancer fighter that ranks higher than lettuce, chicory, romaine and watercress in beta-carotene, vitamin C and calcium. It also contains more calcium than kale, the "king of calcium."

Another great reason to enjoy this spirited green.


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