This July, as usual, we finished eating up the arugula growing in our garden. It is always gone by mid-summer. Arugula is a remarkably easy crop to grow - as long as it doesn't get too hot or too dry. I try to start it at the beginning of each new year, out in the garden under a cold frame, which is essentially a miniature greenhouse.
This salad is my favorite and it has changed the way I feel about arugula altogether. A few years after finding it I discovered Alice Waters' technique for washing and dressing salad, from her book In the Green Kitchen. This, too, made a real difference. Now I use them for every salad I make, arugula and otherwise. Together, arugula and good technique helped me get rid of some preconceived notions I'd held on to about salad.
One of those is that salad dressing needs to be complicated to taste delicious: it doesn't. Lemon juice is a perfect acid to pair with just about any type of oil, able to perform a kind of magic exclusive to this diminutive yellow fruit. It can marry some remarkably simple ingredients into flavor much larger than the sum of its parts: in this salad's case a slightly spicy bowl of freshness with just enough nut and zip to be exciting.
Another misconception is that home grown salad should look the same as grocery store salad: it shouldn't. Fresh picked salad can be much more delicate than older, hardier greens often found at the store. It bruises easily and must be handled with care. When the stem ends are cut off a milky white liquid beads up. That is what truly fresh salad does.
And then there is the idea that salad is a boring replacement for something better. I used to think, "Pah, it's nothing but a bowl of boring," every time I saw one coming. But now I know that a good salad holds a mysterious power, not unlike the one candy has for children, that makes me happy and ready to take on the world.
Have a good week and eat up!
Arugula Salad: (adapted from the Eatwell Farm Newsletter)
1 bunch arugula leaves, thick stems removed
2-3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-ish Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
1/8 cup parmesan shavings (I use a vegetable peeler)
Up to a day ahead, wash the arugula. Pat it dry and roll it in a towel. Let the whole bundle chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, then gently dump the greens into a bowl, cover and return to the fridge.
To toast the pine nuts, heat a dry skillet (cast iron works best) over high heat, when the pan is hot turn the heat to medium. Put in the nuts and toss them or mix with a wooden spoon until they begin to smell toasty. Pay very close attention, you don't want them to burn. When toasted, move them to a cool bowl right away.
When you are just about ready to eat, put the arugula leaves in a big bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice and olive oil on top, start with about half of each quantity, add salt and pepper, toss and taste frequently. Stop when it is delicious. Once you've got the hang of it you'll be able to squeeze juice right from a lemon half on top of the greens and drizzle olive oil from a cruet - no measuring needed.
Sprinkle the pine nuts and parmesan on top. Serve and eat!