What is it in the human makeup that insists first on taming a prized wild thing, then bemoans the loss of flavor? Not that I’m advocating a return to hunting and gathering. Yet there are things like shrimp, salmon, range-roving buffalo, rabbit and other game, blackberries, strawberries, sorrel and arugula that, foraged in the wild, become even more special to us. There are reports of serious and well-funded efforts to cultivate the famed truffle. Perhaps that is simply the nature of things, like nature, at work. Admittedly, we and all we consume, were once wild. Most of us treasure that bit of untamed self that still makes an occasional appearance.
Wild arugula is available in our farmers’ market. Arugula, by any of its other names including: ricola, rocket, Lincoln Weed, rugula, rock weed and roquette, brings a peppery bite to any dish graced with its attendance. Traditionally a foraged edible, this bitter green has found its way into our herb and vegetable gardens. It is claimed that cultivated, arugula becomes a bit paler green and grows to larger proportions not having to contend for water or light in such locations. Still, both the wild and the farmed varieties bless all manner of salads and cooked dishes with its unique pepper-rich sharpness and tang.
Native to the Mediterranean regions, arugula is now foraged and cultivated across Europe, North Africa and North and South America. Dandelions are technically a different species despite the similarity of look and taste. Young and tender, dandelions are eaten almost interchangeably with arugula. The dandelion, however, is slightly less peppery and slightly more bitter than arugula.
One might be able to say, with validity, that all green vegetables and herbs are good for you. Current research has indicated that arugula can inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer. Doesn’t it amaze you that with all we know, there is still so much we have to learn? To learn not about outer space or even the oceans, but right within our own bodies and on our own tables. Good thing learning is fun. In previous columns, we’ve published recipes featuring arugula such as Arugula Risotto and Cappelini with Arugula which are available on the web site. Today’s offering is an easy but richly satisfying salad: Arugula, Tomatoes and Sweet Ricotta, a combination of flavors to wake up winter drowsy taste buds.