Within minutes of tomatoes beginning to ripen in the garden, all of the leaf lettuces and salad greens shrivel up and die in a hot, muggy conspiracy of the universe to prevent a “Grow your own salad” moment.
Except for arugula. It doesn’t die but it gets big and bold, and not in a good way. Its signature peppery, spicy, slightly bitter flavor becomes very peppery, very bitter and not so much spicy as unpleasantly hot when plants are allowed to get too big.
The key, of course, is to keep your arugula picked so that it is in a state of perpetual baby greens. This is possible, and very doable; arugula is king of the “cut and come again” school of greens. It’s like mowing the lawn, but with scissors. If you don’t pull up the plants and just keep continually snipping the little leaves when they get three or four inches high, you can have a continual crop of delicate salad greens.
But there’s a reason the Brits call arugula “rocket.” Once it gets started, it takes off like a rocket. It grows fast. And it doesn’t take long for a bed of delicate salad greens to turn into big, stringy leaves. Unlike spinach and kale, which are both nice baby greens but also have a place on the table for leaves in a more more mature state, arugula is usually considered to have value only when small.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. If you find yourself in possession of an arugula patch that is so big and scary looking, it’s intimidating your collard greens, all is not lost.
March out into your garden with a nice, sharp pair of scissors and give that overgrown arugula the culinary equivalent of a buzz cut. Mow it down and throw everything into a basket. If you have let things get so out of hand that some of the plants are flowering, cut off the flowers and throw them back into the patch. They’ll bring you some nice new plants in a few weeks.
Now some people will tell you that once a plant has flowered, the greens get so tough and bitter that they are inedible and you should pull up the plant and throw it out. We say not. Face boldness with boldness.
Take your basket of big, bad greens into the house and wash them in a bowl of water. Now it’s time to sort. If there are any small, new leaves near the bottom, set those aside for a salad.
Pull the bigger, more mature leaves off the stems. Not much you can do with the stems besides compost. Vegetable stock? Give it a try and report your findings.
This arugula is way too harsh to eat raw. You’re going to need to cook it. Sauté it in some olive oil with a little garlic. You’ll be surprised how nicely it tames down. Recipes follow with ideas for a variety of the big, bold greens. The next time your arugula gets out of hand, pull one out and give it a go.
Overgrown Arugula with Spaghetti and Ricotta
Salt and black pepper
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1 large bunch mature arugula (about a pound)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Several pinches of red pepper flakes
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
16 oz. container ricotta
Cook spaghetti to al dente and drain. Stem arugula and coarsely chop and wash. Do not dry. Warm oil in large skillet with garlic and pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until garlic turns light gold. Then add arugula with water clinging to leaves. Season with salt and cook until wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. Add cooked spaghetti directly to pan, then toss with toasted nuts, ricotta, and grated cheese. Season with pepper and serve with extra oil drizzled over the top.
Arugula green garlic pesto recipe
makes about 1 cup
4 cups (lightly packed) arugula
2 heads green garlic (including pale green part) or green onions
2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup (lightly packed) grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until the pesto is smooth. Store refrigerated up to 2 weeks and frozen up to 1 year.
Red Kale With Potatoes and Olives
All greens are good with potatoes. You can substitute Nicoise or black olives, if you’d like.
2 large boiling potatoes, such as Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold, about 1 pound
1 to 2 bunches kale
3 to 5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
Handful of pitted black, brine-cured olives, coarsely chopped
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with cold water. Add salt to taste and bring to a simmer. Cook the potatoes until they’re tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, let them cool slightly, then peel and coarsely chop them. Cut the kale leaves off of their tough stems and chop them coarsely. Bring water to a simmer in a 12-to 14-inch skillet and add a dash of salt. Add the kale and simmer until tender, 7 to 10 minutes, then drain. (If you’re using 2 bunches of kale, you’ll need 2 large skillets.)
Heat the oil with the garlic and pepper flakes in a large skillet over medium heat. When you can smell the garlic, add the olives, kale, potatoes and tomatoes. Cook, breaking up the potatoes with a fork and mashing them into the greens to make a kind of rough hash. Taste for salt and serve with olive oil drizzled over the top.
Collard Greens With Roasted Peanuts and Crushed Red Peppers
3 bunches collard greens or a mixture of greens
3 tbsp. peanut oil
1/3 cup raw peanuts
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
Hot pepper-vinegar sauce, for serving
Remove and discard the stems from the greens and chop the leaves coarsely. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add salt to taste. Add the greens and use a pair of tongs or wooden spoon to poke them under the water. After the water returns to a boil, cook until the greens are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. When done, drain the greens and set them aside.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet that’s large enough to accommodate the cooked greens. Add the peanuts and fry them until they’re lightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. They will continue to darken as they cool.
Return the pan with the oil to the heat and add the garlic. Cook for about a minute, without letting it brown, then add the red pepper flakes and the cooked greens. Toss them in the oil and cook until they’re heated through, turning them occasionally. While they’re heating, chop the peanuts and then add them to the greens. Toss everything together and taste for salt. Serve with hot pepper sauce on the side.
Pot Herb Soup (Mustard Greens, Spinach, Arugula)
Simmer some potato gnocchi in the soup just before serving. The tender mouthfuls of potato are so nice with the greens. Trader Joe’s sells gnocchi ready to heat and eat. Or serve this with garlic-rubbed croutons floating in the soup.
1 onion, finely diced
2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 leek, white part only, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large carrot, chopped into small pieces
1 large baking potato, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley and celery leaves, mixed
2 bay leaves
7 cups chicken broth, divided
4 cups mustard greens, stems removed, chopped
3 cups spinach leaves, stemmed and finely chopped
2 cups arugula leaves, stemmed and chopped
Freshly ground pepper
In a large, wide soup pot, cook the onion in the oil over high heat for about a minute. Add the leek, celery, carrot, potato, parsley mixture and bay leaves. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of the broth and the mustard greens, toss with 2 teaspoons of salt and cook, covered, until the greens have wilted down, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the rest of the stock, bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the mustard is tender and mild, 25 to 35 minutes.
Add the spinach and arugula and cook until tender and bright green, about 3 to 5 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
Mustard Greens Slowly Cooked With Rice, Ginger and Cilantro
By the time the greens have cooked for 45 minutes, their sting is gone; they’re silky and tender. If you prefer, you can use one bunch of mustard greens and one bunch of chard.
2 bunches mustard greens, coarse stems removed
3 tbsp. oil
1 onion, diced
1/4 cup rice
2 tbsp. finely chopped ginger root
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1 cup chopped cilantro stems and leaves
1 tsp. salt
Yogurt, preferably whole-milk, for serving
Stem the mustard greens, wash well and chop but don’t dry them. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy pot. Add the onion, rice, ginger, cumin and paprika and stir to coat with the oil. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, then add the cilantro and the greens. Sprinkle with salt, cover the pan and cook until the volume has reduced, 10 to 15 minutes. Give everything a stir, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting, replace the cover and cook slowly for 30 to 45 minutes. There should be ample moisture in the pot, but check once or twice to make sure that nothing is sticking on the bottom. If it seems dry, add a few tablespoons to 1/4 cup of water. Start tasting after 30 minutes, and cook until the greens are tender. Serve warm with yogurt spooned over the top.
Greens With Crisped Bread Crumbs
1/2 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 bunches mustard, collards, kale or a mixture, trimmed and washed
Cook the bread crumbs in 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat until they’re crisp and golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Boil or steam the greens until they’re tender, 12 to 15 minutes, then drain. Chop them coarsely, then toss them with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the bread crumbs, toss once more and serve.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.