Arugula pizza, here shown with pine nuts and crumbled goat cheese. Photo courtesy SXC.
Last week we finally made it across town to a pizza café we’ve been yearning to try. It’s called Farinella Bakery. What they bake are the most heavenly pizzas and calzones.
We haven’t yet tried the calzones yet; there are too many great pizza toppings to work our way through. In the glass case in front of us were some 20 different gourmet pizzas by the slice, on the thinnest, cut on rectangles, with crispest crust we’ve had in memory.
We chose three of the slices, starting with Tartuffo (sliced sautéed mushrooms atop a mushroom-ricotta paste, drizzled with truffle oil) and V.I.P (artichoke heart pesto, fresh mint, pecorino romano, goat cheese and black pepper. Both were as delicious as we’d hoped.
But our third slice, Filetto, blew us away. What a simple yet divine concept: fresh cherry tomato filets (an Italian reference to roasted cherry tomatoes) and mozzarella, garnished with fresh arugula.
Not just a few leaves, mind you, but a thorough carpeting of fresh, peppery, bright green arugula. It will be hard to return to Farinella without adding a slice of it to our order.
For St. Patrick’s Day lunch, we’ll be making our own version of arugula pizza. While arugula is a popular ingredient in Italy (where it’s called rucola), for St. Pat’s you can call it fusion food, taking inspiration from the Emerald Isle.
No matter what you choose, you’re in for a treat.
ARUGULA PIZZA VARIATIONS
We’ll be trying some variations of Farinella’s simple yet elegant recipe.
Salty is a good counterpoint to the pepperiness of the arugula, so we’ll add anchovies or sardines to one side of our pizza, and prosciutto or serrano ham to the other.
If you like heat, sprinkle with chili flakes or minced or sliced jalapeño.
If you want more cheese, consider a garnish of crumbled blue, feta or goat cheese, or shaved Parmesan.
You can also add a garnish of pine nuts (pignoli in Italian).
It you’d like more seasoning, get out the oregano.
Down the road, we’ll try a blend of fresh basil and arugula.
We’ll never be able to turn out a brilliant crust like the masters at Farinella, but we can guarantee: There won’t be a crumb left over.
You don’t have to wait for St. Patrick’s Day to head to the store for arugula, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and a pizza crust.
Fresh-picked arugula. Try growing it in your garden! Photo courtesy Burpee.com.
THE HISTORY OF ARUGULA
Arugula, botanical name Eruca sativa, is a member of the Brassicaceae family of great-for-you cruciferous vegetables. It’s called rocket in the U.K. and rucola in Italy, its home turf.
A pungent, peppery, leafy green vegetable resembling a longer-leafed, open lettuce, arugula is rich in vitamin C and potassium. The leaves, flowers, young seed pods and mature seeds are all edible.
Used as an edible herb in the Mediterranean area since Roman times, it was gathered wild or grown in home gardens along with other staples like basil and parsley.
In Italy, raw arugula is often added to pizzas just before the baking period ends or immediately after as a garnish, so that it won’t wilt from the heat.
It’s chopped and added to sauces and cooked dishes, or made directly into a sauce by frying it in olive oil and garlic. It is also used a condiment for cold meats and fish (substitute it for parsley in a gremolata).
In the Puglia region of Southern Italy, the pasta dish cavatiéddi combines copious amounts of coarsely chopped arugula with tomato sauce and grated pecorino cheese.
Add chopped arugula parsley-style to boiled potatoes, as they do in Slovenia.
For an appetizer or lunch main, serve the Italian dish straccietti, thin slices of beef with raw arugula and parmesan cheese.
Enjoy arugula raw in salads, as part of a mesclun mix or with perlini (small mozzarella balls) and fresh or sun-dried tomatoes.
Use it instead of lettuce on a sandwich.
Cook it in an omelet, with or without your favorite cheese.
ARUGULA SERVING SUGGESTIONS
There are many other ways to serve arugula, raw or cooked. Feel free to add your favorites.
Food trivia: Arugula was mentioned by classical authors, including Virgil, as an aphrodisiac. For that reason, it was often mixed with lettuce, which was thought to have a calming influence (source).
Here’s the history of pizza.