At this point, arugula has become so much of a yuppie cliché and emblem of the gourmet-ization of America (see David Kamp’s The United States of Arugula), that it seems a little silly to even write about it. Shouldn’t I be onto bigger and better lettuce greens? Maybe so, but I love arugula. I just love it. It’s so peppery and yet so delicate. So I say bring on the yuppies, if it means I can find arugula in any supermarket.
I’m even more of this opinion now that I’ve realized that arugula is a multifunctional green: it can be used both raw and cooked. Usually you eat lettuces raw and greens (beet greens, kale leaves, chard, etc) cooked. I thought spinach was the only place the Venn Diagram overlapped, but as it turns out, arugula also represents the best of both worlds. Or rather, can at least also be wilted into various dishes (imagine trying that with romaine…it would not be pretty). I don’t know, however, that I would attempt to wilt pure arugula and eat it plain.
Arugula plays slightly different roles in these two dishes. I made the risotto first, where the arugula plays a more starring role, significantly changing the color and body of the dish. A few nights later, I just happened to be making spaghetti and had half the bag of arugula still in my fridge. I didn’t really want to eat a salad that night, but I did want to feel like I’d had some nutrients, so I just dumped the rest of it into the sauce. There, it was practically unnoticeable, but I could still feel virtuous, and I think it made the whole thing look a little prettier.
I don’t really have a recipe for the spaghetti: I (again) used jarred sauce, livened up with some ground beef I had cooked up in a pan (draining the fat) and some red pepper flakes, as well as a good dose of leftover red wine. Then, at the last minute, when the pasta was cooked and in the colander in the sink and the sauce was already hot, I just stirred the arugula into the sauce, over low heat, for about a minute, until it all wilted in. With the risotto, you also just wilt the arugula in at the last minute. It’s really quite remarkable to see how such a volume of greens can cook down so small in so little time. Wilting greens is a great technique, and now that I know it can be done with arugula, I’m going to start trying it all the time (my next target, I think, is going to be scrambled eggs – though I’m not sure the arugula can wilt in the amount of time that won’t overcook the eggs…we’ll find out!).
Also, it’s worth pointing out, that this risotto is a bit unusual, because it uses goat cheese in the final step, instead of parmesan or mascarpone (or some combination thereof). The goat cheese gives the same creamy texture, but with a more kicky flavor. I liked the change, here, too. (For tips on cooking risotto, you can read my post on mushroom risotto or Kevin’s on asparagus risotto – here at FJ, we just can’t get enough.)
Risotto With Fennel, Arugula and Goat Cheese
Adapted from the New York Times
1 bunch arugula, rinsed
1 bulb fresh fennel
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ c. arborio rice
½ c. dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 c. well-flavored chicken stock, simmering
½ c. crumbled soft goat cheese.
1. Rinse and drain the arugula. If the stems are particularly thick, tear the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. (Most arugula you buy these days, and definitely the kind in the pre-packaged salad bag, will be fine as is.) Roughly chop and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the scallions and sauté until just tender. Stir in the garlic. Add the sliced fennel bulb and continue to sauté until the fennel is tender. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until the grains are looking transluscent. Stir in the wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Slowly start adding the chicken stock, about half a cup at a time, stirring constantly and adding more as the broth is absorbed. After about 30 minutes, the rice should have swelled and become nearly tender. Fold in the reserved arugula and fennel tops.
5. Cook another minute until the risotto has a creamy consistency but the grains of rice are still al dente. Fold in the cheese and serve.