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Arugula - The Flavor and Health Benefits of Italy’s Spicy Bitter Green

Updated: May 14, 2022

Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said “I think that kale salad is what they call a ‘double negative’”. As arugula is in the same botanical family as kale I have a feeling he probably, like many Americans, would turn his nose up at arugula as well. But across the pond, arugula (also know as rocket) is highly thought of and a favorite around the world.

Arugula is especially popular in Italy. With its deep green color, tender notched leaves and distinctive peppery taste, it pairs well with other ingredients Italians love like salty cheeses, citrus, pancetta, pignoli (pine nuts) and pistachio nuts adding a light spicy bite. It's also used to top cooked pizzas or made into pesto. As a leafy green it can be part of a fresh salad, added to soups, grains or pasta or sautéed in olive oil for a contorno or side dish of bitter greens which Italians love. Bitter greens are rich in health-boosting compounds and high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C and K and minerals such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus and magnesium. The leafy green leaves of arugula are highly hydrating, full of protective antioxidants and vital nutrients that support and improve immunity to strengthen and detoxify the body.

Grown in the Mediterranean since the Roman Empire arugula was thought to energize the body. Also called roquette the pungent, saucy green is highly favored in France as well. A few arugula leaves on a baguette halved lengthwise, brushed with extra virgin olive oil, a slice of fresh mozzarella and thinly sliced prosciutto seasoned with freshly ground black pepper makes a perfect addition to a European inspired summertime lunch.

This morning I had a poached egg with toast and arugula drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and Giusti Fig Balsamic Glaze. You could add diced pieces of crisp bacon to the pile of arugula and even some strawberries or blueberries as they come into season. Arugula loves fruit, in fact if you get caught in a fast food lunch, Blaze Pizza has a Arugula & Fresh Fruit Salad Entree that won’t leave you feeling guilty. With 312 calories and between 9 and 12 Weight Watchers points, it’s made with wild baby arugula, fresh strawberries, blueberries, balsamic vinegar and goat cheese.

The important factor when buying arugula is that the leaves should be fresh and not faded. Although some sites advise not to wash before using, I do rinse the arugula in cold water and let dry then lightly wrap the loose arugula in a paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator. The greens will keep at least 3-5 days although I have kept arugula fresh for several weeks using this and another recommended method. Bagged arugula will keep, unopened, for five or so days depending on refrigeration. If not properly preserved, once opened, use the greens within a couple of days. Cooked arugula will keep for up to three days in the refrigerator. Freezing arugula is not recommended.

It is not good to be cut arugula with a metal knife, because it contains vitamin C that can lead to oxidation and it can change the taste. Wilted leaves can be refreshed in a bowl with ice cold water.

Arugula and Pear Salad With Pine Nut-Crusted Goat Cheese

  • ½ cup pignoli (pine nuts)

  • 8 ounce log of soft, unripened goat cheese

  • 6 to 8 cups arugula, cleaned and dried

  • ¼ cup red pepper, diced

  • 1 pear, thinly sliced

  • 2 tablespoons millefiori (wildflower) honey

  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Slowly add oil until emulsified. Meanwhile, toast nuts in small pan over medium heat until fragrant. Cool and coarsely chop. Divide goat cheese into eight pieces and form into button shape. Roll the outside in toasted nuts. Combine arugula, peppers and dressing in a salad bowl. Add enough dressing to coat the leaves. Make a small mound of argula in center of the plate. Place goat cheese buttons to the side. Drizzle with honey. Fan pear slices on top and serve.

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