I still remember the first time I had arugula. It was at a weekend market. There was a stall selling burgers that looked good, and the owner-cook did not look a lot older than my daughters.
We ordered, took the food to the car and ate there. I didn’t even know what the leaves underneath the beef patty were called. I never had arugula before and I hadn’t even heard its name.
But I was smitten. Seriously smitten. No burger had tasted better, and the juicy patty wasn’t the only reason. Since then, when it comes to salad, lettuce has NOT been my first choice for the green component. I’ll take arugula over lettuce any time. And that goes for the greens in my sandwiches too.
What does arugula taste like?
Peppery and slightly bitter, arugula (rocket in some parts of Europe) is Eruca vesicaria. It has been grown in the Mediterranean since the days of ancient Rome where it was believed to be an aphrodisiac. And it is for this reason that growing arugula in monasteries was prohobited.
If you’re wondering why anyone would be smitten by a peppery and bitter vegetable, let me say this. It’s about what you combine arugula with. With the right partner or partners, the peppery flavor and bitterness become a package that I can only label as “bold” — the perfect foil for greasy meat and salty cheese.
Just try laying an arugula leaf or two on a piece of thin toast, top with melted cheese, smell deeply, exhale and take a bite. We did that one time at a friend’s birthday dinner. Another friend brought a portable raclette grill, cheese and arugula straight from their farm. Bread was toasted, cheese was melted and arugula was passed around. There was wine, and… Oh, the rustic simplicity! The perfection!
There’s baby arugula and there’s regular arugula. I especially love baby arugula with its less pronounced bitter undertones but, when unavailable, I am not averse to regular arugula.
Aside from the level of bitterness, what’s the significant difference between baby and regular arugula? The preparation. Regular arugula requires a more thorough rinsing to remove silt, and the tough stems near the roots must be cut off.