This Meatless Monday, we feature arugula, with growing, storage and prep tips, as well as recipes for Arugula Pasta and Lemony Arugula Salad from Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.

Then toss them in with your pasta and arugula and voila! Instant color!  Photo courtesy of Shannon Palmer.

Then toss them in with your pasta and arugula and voila! Instant color! Photo courtesy of Shannon Palmer.

Background

Arugula, also known as rugula, rucola, roquette, and garden rocket, is a leafy green with a flavor often described as “peppery” or “mustardy.”  Native to the Mediterranean region, arugula is thought to have been enjoyed long ago by the Romans, who used the seeds for flavoring as well as eating the leaves.  Arugula remains popular in Italian cuisine and is now cultivated in other temperate regions around the globe.  Commonly found mixed into salads with other raw greens, arugula can also be lightly cooked.  Because arugula is fairly hardy, it is often one of the first greens available in the spring.  Although the green enjoys a somewhat upscale reputation, it is easy to grow and is often reasonably priced at farm stands and markets.

Growing Tips

Arugula is relatively cold-tolerant and grows best from spring to mid-summer.  Heat can cause the leaves to be smaller and spicier.  Direct-sow seeds in mid-spring, barely covering them with soil.  Keep well watered.  Leaves will be ready to harvest in only about a month! Floating row cover is very useful when growing arugula, which is very prone to attack by flea beetles (who will eat tiny holes in it, making it ugly though still perfectly edible).  For a consistent crop of arugula, treat it like a lettuce mix and sow seeds every 3-4 weeks.  If planting well into the summer, try to choose an area with partial shade.  As plants mature, the flavor of the leaves becomes increasingly intense, so if you prefer a milder flavor, you may wish to harvest baby leaves.  Most varieties of arugula will continue to produce for weeks if the leaves are picked individually.  Arugula flowers are edible, too!

Storage

Like most greens, arugula deteriorates quickly after being picked.  If you grow it yourself, avoid picking the leaves until just before you are ready to use them.  Otherwise, arugula will keep for a few days when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Nutritional Benefits

Despite being very low in calories (less than 10 per serving), arugula is packed with vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A and K, folic acid, zinc, potassium, calcium, and iron.  Folic acid is known to lower your risk of heart disease and even some types of cancer.  Eating arugula is a great way to incorporate a wide variety of vitamins and minerals into your diet!

Preparation

Arugula is best when dark green, young, and tender.  It can be eaten raw or cooked.  Wash before using and dry in a salad spin