Arugula, a peppery, bitter green, became popular in the early 1990s, showing up in mesclun mixes and atop pizzas. It arrived in the U.S. from Italy where it is known as "rucola." But this trendy green has been around since biblical times when it was consumed as a spice, a food and a medicine.
Also referred to as "rocket," arugula is a green that grows quickly in home gardens or pots. Arugula is a delicate green and highly perishable, so it is best purchased at farmers markets where it is freshly harvested. Avoid waterlogged bunches and yellowing leaves.
Arugula can vary in leaf size and spiciness, depending on the grower and summer heat, which will make for more zing. Eaten raw, heat comes through, but if you cook arugula, the heat dissipates and the green takes on a pleasant bitterness.
Arugula punctuates a salad nicely, balancing sweet, sharp, salty, rich or bland flavors and ingredients. Remember salt and acidity in salad dressings will cause arugula to wilt, so dress salads just before serving.
Throw a handful atop a just-out-of-the-oven pizza or a bowl of steaming pasta; arugula will wilt nicely with the heat. Use it as you would leeks or watercress in a creamy cold soup; replace basil in traditional pesto recipes with arugula. For a fresh summertime pasta, toss steaming hot pasta with chopped garlic, diced ripe tomatoes, arugula and salt and pepper.
Hawaii food writer Joan Namkoong offers a weekly tidbit on fresh seasonal products, many of them locally grown.