By Maria Price
It’s such a surprise to take a walk in the garden and find arugula growing beautifully from when I first planted it two years ago. With the cool rainy weather, the leaves have grown lush and long. I can’t wait to use arugula as my main salad green until hard freezes occur. If I cover it with some greenhouse film, it can possibly survive through the winter.
This leafy salad green has become a very popular herb to add to salads or on its own. Arugula is the Italian name, but sometimes you’ll see it called rocket. It’s a savory, herbal green that is slightly bitter, nutty, and spicy in flavor. When the weather gets hot, its flavor becomes very peppery. Some describe its flavors as similar to radish, peanuts, horseradish, and even smokey. It is most often used as a salad green mixed with lettuces, spinach, endive, radicchio and other baby greens sold as gourmet greens called mesclun. Italians eat arugula by itself, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It is a good source of vitamins A and C as well as iron. It goes well with citrus fruits, pasta, cheeses and chicken. It can be added to soups, egg dishes and stir-fries. The small yellow or cream-colored or sometimes purple-veined flowers make a nice spicy garnish.
Arugula is related to mustard and kale. It can be an annual or perennial hardy in zones 5 to 10. It likes full sun or part shade in climates like Maryland where it gets really hot and humid. Grow it in moist but well-drained soil. Common arugula (Eruca vesicaria) will go to seed if you let it, and will offer volunteers for the next season.
Plant arugula outdoors in full sun to part shade—I find it lasts longer in partial shade. Plant it ¼-inch deep in moisture-retentive soil in early spring. Let the plants flower and drop seed and you’ll have arugula for the fall.
I make a great antipasto salad with arugula. Harvest a salad bowl full of leaves cut in one-inch-long pieces. Add cut tomatoes, red and green sweet peppers such as pepperoncini, lunch box, and banana peppers sliced into thin rounds. Add thinly sliced serrano peppers, depending on how much heat you like. Add some fresh mozzarella, provolone, and Asiago cheese. Add a spicy hard salami and season with oregano, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine vinegar.