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Star Ingredient of the Season: Baby Arugula

How to eat (and prepare) our good friend, eruca sativa.

By Victoria Haneveer November 2, 2016

Shutterstock 344751689 sbatfb

Image: Shutterstock

Though it's often used in applications closer to those of lettuce, arugula (known as rocket in the U.K. and other former British territories) is a member of the cauliflower and kale family. Baby arugula is often included in mixed salad leaves to add a zesty touch, while the older leaves are more peppery and therefore work well as a pizza topping or soup ingredient. Arugula is a favorite in Italian cooking and it has been cultivated around the Mediterranean for centuries. The leaves are a great source of vitamins A, C and K, fiber, calcium, folate, magnesium, iron, manganese, potassium and phosphorus. Baby arugula also offers protein, vitamins B5 and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, copper, and zinc, making this salad leaf a real powerhouse of nutrients and a secret weapon for vegetarians.

When shopping for arugula, look for uniformly dark green leaves with no wilting or yellowing. Pro tip to help maintain freshness: If you have a bunch of arugula, put it in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse. If you have loose leaves, cut off the stems and rinse in running water. Wrap the leaves in a paper towel then put them in a Ziploc bag. This way the arugula will keep remain fresh for a week—if unwashed, it will only last two or three days.

Photo 1 from pixabay k4jvbz

Did someone say rocket salad?

Image: Pixabay

How to Use Baby Arugula

Although the most popular use of arugula is adding it to a salad, there are plenty more options to consider. How about scattering baby arugula over a freshly baked or grilled pizza or wilting it in a hot pot of pasta with some extra-virgin olive oil and garlic? Try using it to make green pesto or swap the lettuce on your sandwich for arugula for a slightly different flavor. Sauté some onion and garlic in oil until tender, then add canned tomatoes, a splash of wine and some salt and pepper. Stir the arugula throughout and voilà—you have a really tasty pasta sauce!

Alternatively, sauté onion and garlic, then add mushrooms and some red pepper flakes. When the vegetables are tender, add a splash of chicken broth and a splash of sherry, then simmer until reduced by half. Stir in a handful of arugula and serve as a side dish. Looking for more ideas? How about making a bacon and arugula quiche or tossing it with shaved fennel, blood orange and citrus vinaigrette for a special salad with plenty of zip?

Photo 2 from pixabay ucrf7v

Arugula is a popular pizza topping in Italy.

Image: Pixabay

In a Starring Role at: Luna Pizzeria

Arugula is a well-loved ingredient in Italian cuisine, and you can enjoy it at Luna Pizzeria, owned by the same restaurant group as Barnaby's. It's a casual, relaxed spot with locations in Upper Kirby and the Heights that's equally good for lunch or dinner. Try the Italian sandwich, which comes with a hearty combination of mortadella, capicola, sopressata, provolone, arugula, tomatoes, red onions, wholegrain mustard and pesto spread. This mouthwatering sandwich costs $8 and comes with potato chips on the side. Pork lovers might prefer to order the porchetta, which is paired with arugula pesto or, if you're not that hungry, how about the arugula fennel salad which includes parmesan, almonds and a zingy lemon vinaigrette? You can also add arugula to any pizza of your choice.

Recipe: Two-Minute Baby Arugula Pesto

Pesto is not just a great sauce for pasta—you can spread it on toast, use it in sandwiches, whisk it with buttermilk and lemon to make a tangy dressing or spread it over steak, chicken or salmon for a wonderful Italian flavor. In this easy pesto recipe we are swapping the usual basil for baby arugula, giving it a brand new flavor. Leave out the Parmesan if you want, and use walnuts or almonds instead of the pine nuts. This arugula pesto will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the refrigerator or you can freeze it for up to six months.


  • 2 cups packed baby arugula
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 peeled garlic clove
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Small pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/3 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil


Put the arugula, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper in a food processor. Drizzle in the oil while the machine is running and process until smooth. Add parmesan if using and pulse to mix it in. Your pesto is now ready to enjoy! 

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