All hail arugula…the Caesar of salads. This may come as a surprise, but arugula was not discovered twenty years ago in some trendy London or New York restaurant. In fact, from the Latin name eruca, it has grown wild around the Mediterranean since Roman times, when it was consumed as an aphrodisiac. Today, depending on where you dine, it can be called rocket (England and pretentious California restaurants), roquette (France), rucola (Italy), and arugula (the USA). Its taste is often called “peppery,” which I find trite to the point of annoying.
How I do love my eruca… not for its long history, pretentious appeal, peppery taste, or aphrodisiacal qualities, but rather for its versatility. It makes a fine salad, with or without shaved Parmigiano on top. It’s always great with beef, whether raw (carpaccio), grilled (tagliata), or dried (bresaola). It’s delicious when served cold over a hot pizza. It even makes a tasty digestif, rucolino. And of course, it pairs well with pasta.
In the future, we’ll revisit the various pasta recipes that feature arugula, but today we’ll go to Puglia, where it is often served, in lieu of broccoli rabe, with orecchiette. You can add pancetta, sausage, or tomatoes if you’d like, but here it is alone, in all of its ancient, trendy, powerful, and arousing glory.
Check out our wine pairings to complement this dish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta. In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the garlic. When golden, add the arugula. Mix well. When beginning to wilt, add 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, retain 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the arugula, and cook together over medium heat until well mixed. Add some of the retained water if it seems dry. Serve immediately with a generous sprinkle of Pecorino Romano.