Sunday, March 13, 2016

What's in Season?... Arugula

For the month of March, the illustration on my 2016 "Twelve Months of Fresh Food" calendar is a scattering of arugula leaves.  

And while there is no arugula growing in my part of the world (at least not in the garden) right now, it is in March that I really begin to be hungry for salad.  And arugula is almost always the green I reach for first when I want to make a salad.  From earliest late in the fall...arugula is a constant presence in my pantry.

Arugula has a friendly nuttiness and peppery bite.  The bite can be mild or quite strong...depending on the maturity of the plant and the weather (more mature plants and hotter weather produce hot, peppery arugula).  In early spring, arugula is delicious with asparagus, artichokes, peas, radishes and young root vegetables. During the summer, it is marvelous with broccoli, tomatoes, corn, summer squash, cucumbers and melons, peaches and berries as well as green and shelling beans.  Its flavorful presence is just the thing for fall fruits...especially figs, grapes and apples.   No matter the season, it is perfect with nuts of all kinds, salty and tangy cheeses, olives, cured meats, grains, lemon (and orange), avocadoes, potatoes and mushrooms.  It is a most versatile food.

And it needn't be limited to being just a salad green.  It can be used like an herb...folded into pastas...or vegetable ragouts...  It makes the best pesto imaginable (I happen to prefer it to basil pesto) and is delicious stirred into soup...tossed with pasta...or spread on a crostini, pizza, sandwich, or quesadilla.  No wonder I love it so.

Today, I am posting a new recipe for a delicious and simple salad...featuring (in addition to the arugula) blanched green beans, toasted hazelnuts and a fantastic orange vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette is particularly good with the arugula.  I posted a similar vinaigrette—with a reduced orange juice base—last spring.  If you have never reduced a liquid to a syrup before, you should check out that post.  I am posting the salad today accompanied by pan-seared salmon...but it was the hit of a recent wine-pairing class when served with sea scallops.  I also think it would be wonderful topped with a round of baked goat cheese. 

Since today's post is intended to be a celebration of arugula, I thought I would end with a picture montage of some of the recipes I have posted featuring arugula over the last six years (there have been dozens...  And yes, I have been keeping For Love of the Table for almost six years.  It is hard to believe....).  Enjoy!

Pasta with Arugula and Walnut Pesto and Summer Squash
Gemelli with Sugar Snap Peas, Mushrooms & Goat Cheese

Fettuccine with Corn Pesto, Arugula & Prosciutto
Pizza with Potatoes, Mushrooms & Arugula

Minestra Verdissima
Wild Rice Salad with Apples & Roast Chicken
Farro Salad with Broccoli and Green Olives

Quinoa with Golden Beets, Avocado & Arugula

Chicken Salad with Cantaloupe, Feta & Arugula

Asparagus & White Bean Salad with Arugula
Broccoli, Chickpeas & Arugula
Autumn Salad of Fresh Figs, Grapes, Arugula, Escarole & Mint

Spring Salad with Arugula, Mint, Beets & Asparagus

Citrus & Avocado Salad

Watermelon, Blueberries & Arugula

Corn Cakes with Roasted Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Arugula & Bacon

Salad of Haricot Verts, Arugula, Hazelnuts & Orange
with Pan-Seared Salmon

1 orange, scrubbed
1 lb. trimmed haricot verts, cut on a slight diagonal into 2-inch lengths
1/2 c.  (60 g) Hazelnuts, toasted, husked & very coarsely chopped

Four 4- to 6-ounce portions skinless salmon filet
Salt & Pepper
Vegetable or olive oil

1 recipe Orange Vinaigrette (below)
2 handfuls arugula (2 to 2 1/2 oz.)

Using a vegetable peeler, remove 5 or 6 strips of zest from the orange, being careful to avoid the bitter white will need about half of the orange.  Cut the strips lengthwise into a very fine julienne.  Set aside.

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil.  Add the haricots verts and cook until just tender.  While the haricots cook, place the zest in a bowl sieve and dip the sieve into the pot with the haricots (just far enough to submerge the zest) for 10 to 15 seconds.  Lift the sieve out and spread the zest on a paper towel.  When the beans are tender, drain and spread on kitchen towels.  Set aside to cool.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high to high heat.  While the pan heats, pat the salmon dry and season with salt and pepper.  Add enough oil to the pan to lightly coat the pan (the pan should be hot enough that the oil shimmers and disperses across the surface of the pan immediately).  Add the salmon to the pan, service-side down, and let cook undisturbed golden brown and crisp on the first side (about 2 minutes)—regulating the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle.  Carefully turn the filets over and continue to cook on the second side.  Cook the salmon a total of 7 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness.  I like mine to still be slightly translucent in the center, so I cook it for the lesser amount of time.  If you like, you may place the pan in a hot oven to finish the cooking after the salmon has been flipped to the second side.  Transfer the salmon to a plate and keep warm while you finish the salad.

While the fish cooks, place the room temperature beans, the zest and the hazelnuts in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat.  Toss to combine.

When the salmon is ready, add the arugula and toss with the haricots. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Drizzle in more vinaigrette if the salad seems dry. 

Divide the salad among serving plates and top with the salmon.  Drizzle the salmon with some olive oil...or a bit of vinaigrette...if you like. 

Serves 4 as an entrée.

(Salad adapted from Ottolenghi the Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Note:  This salad is also delicious with seared Sea scallops or Halibut.

Orange Vinaigrette:
2 T. Sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, finely diced (about 1 1/2 T.)
1/4 t. kosher salt
Juice of 1 Valencia Oranges (1/3 to 1/2 c.), reduced until syrupy
1/2 t. fennel seed, toasted and crushed
1/2 T. minced fresh tarragon
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and shallot.  Let macerate for 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the salt, reduced orange juice, fennel seed and tarragon.  Gradually whisk in the oil, adding it in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.

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