Ingredient Spotlight with Recipe: Wild Arugula

My mystery box included a nice bag of wild arugula last week, much to my pleasure. For the past year or so, I've been enjoying this pungent, more peppery version of arugula in salads, on top of pizzas, as a pesto. But for some reason, I've never stopped to ask what's the difference between arugula and wild arugula? Now that I'm starting to see it everywhere (even prewashed and bagged up at my local Trader Joe's) I've stopped believing that it is truly a wild plant, found growing in obscure, secret fields and harvested under the cloak of darkness.

So what is it, then? Read on for the answer and a recipe for Wild Arugula Pesto!

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"Arugula and wild arugula are different but related plants," says Julia Wiley of Mariquita Farms. "Our 'wild' arugula is planted and cultivated." Julia references Elizabeth Schneider's Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, a book she and her husband, farmer Andy Griffin, use a lot. Apparently, wild arugula used to mean a foraged variety of arugula but now refers to a garden species called diplotaxis erucoides, which "has a slimmer, sharper form and a fiercer flavor."

More information: Very high in calcium, arugula is full of phytochemicals, beta-carotene and higher than any other salad green in vitamin C. It is a wonderful garden herb that can be sowed and harvested from spring into fall, although it can tend to bolt in the hottest summer months. Purchase seeds from Nature Hills Nursery, where they refer to it as eruca vesicaaria sativa.

Wild arugula is wonderful on its own, tossed with a simple vinaigrette (light on the vinegar) or as a part of a salad mix. One of my favorite things to do is to toss it with a bit of olive oil and salt and use it to top a pizza after it has been removed from the oven and cut into pieces. It can also be made into a delicious pesto:

Wild Arugula Pesto

1 plump clove of garlic

1/4 cup nice extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pinenuts (can substitute almonds)

2 cups, packed, wild arugula, washed and dried

scant 1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

Pulse the garlic and olive oil in a food processor until the garlic is chopped fine. Add the pine nuts, arugula and salt and pulse again into a rough paste. Add cheese and pulse once or twice to blend. Makes about 1 cup.

Uses: toss with pasta, dab on pizza, serve as a dip, spread on bruschetta, swirl into a vegetable soup, spoon over eggs. If storing, cover with plastic wrap so that it touches the top of the pesto and forms a seal. Refrigerate up to one week.

Related: Virtual CSA Box: Arugula

(Image, top: Dana Velden and next: Purdue University)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.

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