The best part about growing arugula is you really only have to trouble yourself with planting it once. After producing loads of leaves for a month or more, this spicy little green sends up a stalk of dainty, tasty flowers, followed by crisp, edible seedpods that, if left to their own devices, conveniently drop seeds around the garden.
Self-Sown Arugula Seedlings
Last fall I dug up a bunch of self-sown arugula plants. I threw most of them into the compost bin and transplanted the remainder into one of my big, square raised beds. I forgot to mulch them, but it didn’t matter. The sturdy plants were not phased by below freezing temperatures, snow, hard rain, and the occasional nibble from our naughty chickens.
An Arugula Seedling That Is All Grown Up
For the past couple months, I’ve been harvesting big bunches of arugula and eating them in salads or stuffing them into quesadillas at lunchtime. Then, last week, I came across a recipe for arugula pesto that Jennifer Stanton, our fabulous wedding photographer (who also happens to be a big time vegetable gardener) sent me.
Jennifer’s recipe is very simple—just arugula, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. She starts by blanching a bunch of arugula briefly in boiling water, wringing it dry, and then blending it in a food processor with 1/3 cup olive oil until smooth. I followed her recipe exactly last spring and it was delicious.
This time I was feeling lazy and decided to skip the blanching step. I also felt like adding in nuts and Parmesan cheese. Many arugula pesto recipes call for either walnuts or pine nuts. I happened to be out of both, but I did have a bunch of sunflower seeds on hand. So I threw them into the mix. I used my grandmother’s basil pesto recipe as a starting point for the ingredients’ proportions, but ended up adding in more cheese to mellow out the arugula’s spicy flavor. The result? A delicious wintertime pesto that adds a really bright, green flavor to basic recipes. The recipe makes over a cup of pesto, so here are a few ideas for using it up:
Steamed potatoes. Jennifer suggests steaming new potatoes and then tossing them with the arugula pesto.
Grilled cheese. Spread a thin layer of the pesto on a slice of good bread, top with grated Gruyere and another slice of bread. Toast it in a skillet slicked with butter until the sandwich is golden brown on both sides and the cheese is melted and gooey. Serve with tomato soup or salad. I had this three times for lunch last week because it is so fast and easy to make.
Pasta. Add some reserved pasta water to 2 or 3 tablespoons of the pesto to thin it out a bit. Then toss it with a serving of hot pasta. Top with a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, and a dusting or Parmesan cheese.
Leaves from younger plants work best in the pesto because arugula gets increasingly spicy, and develops a more pungent flavor, as it matures. If you only have older leaves on hand, not to worry. Just blanch them in hot water first to knock the spiciness down a level or two. To prevent the pesto from turning an unattractive greenish black color, load it into a glass or plastic container. Then, smoosh a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto and cover the container with a tight fitting lid. The pesto keeps in the fridge for a week or more. It also freezes well, for freezing instructions, check out my basil pesto recipe.
4 cups of arugula leaves, roughly chopped (remove any tough stems)
2 cloves garlic
½ cup sunflower seed kernels
¾ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil
salt to taste
In a food processor, blend the arugula, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese into a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then, with the blade running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until the olive oil is thoroughly incorporated and the pesto is smooth. Give the pesto a taste and add salt if necessary.