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Arugula, a totally underrated vegetable
Used well, it deserves a comeback | Arugula, Apple, and Walnut Salad
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BOOK EVENTS AND TALKS
Before jumping into today’s newsletter, all about arugula, let me remind you of the upcoming book events. I’m so excited to meet you for our virtual Cucina Povera book tour!
(If you are new to Letters from Tuscany, welcome! You can read more about Cucina Povera and the journey that brought to it here)
Sunday, April 16th - FREE LIVE TALK OPEN TO EVERYONE , a virtual book launch and party to celebrate Cucina Povera.
Friday, April 21, 2023 - CUCINA POVERA: The Art of Making Do With What You’ve Got - Online event with MoFad New York and Kitchen Arts and Letters. A conversation with Regula Ysewijn. Purchase tickets here.
Sunday, April 23, 2023 – Italy Off the Beaten Path with Giulia Scarpaleggia, hosted by Milk Street Live Online Cooking School. Purchase tickets here. Use CUCINA to have a 15% discount.
Arugula, a totally underrated vegetable
Tortellini with cream and prosciutto, bow-tie pasta with crab meat, pennette with vodka and salmon, beef filet with green pepper, veal escalopes with mushrooms, mayonnaise and gelatin, arugula always and everywhere. When I think of food in Italy in the ‘80s, these are the first images to come to mind.
I am an ‘80s girl through and through, having grown up with frozen food and pre-cooked risotto in a bag, pouring cream on everything, and believing that shrimp cocktails and profiteroles were the foods to order if you wanted to sound up-to-date, like a real food connoisseur.
Looking back at those dishes now, they and their ingredients still suffer a sort of social stigma. Many Italian chefs have admitted that the problem back then was not in the ingredients themselves, nor in the pairings—cream and prosciutto is still one of my favourite combos—but in the carelessness applied to cooking. Professional cooking was usually not considered a revered job, but rather an assembly line business.
Arugula is one of those ingredients immediately associated with a certain kind of ‘80s cuisine, pretentious and heavy on the cream. But to me, it is entirely underrated. Used well, it deserves a comeback.
Be it cultivated or, better yet, wild and foraged, arugula is delicious, slightly hot, with a peppery flavour that tingles your tastebuds. After the cold winter weather, I feel a thrill of excitement finding fresh bunches of arugula at the market. It’s a sign that means that my cooking is about to change, incorporating fresher ingredients and lighter preparations.
Arugula belongs to the Brassicaceae family—along with broccoli, cabbage, kale, and the like—and nowadays, it’s often considered a powerful superfood, as it’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Nutritional aspects aside, arugula is an adventurous green and welcomes spring back into the kitchen with its bright, lively kick. It adds character to salads and pasta dressings, a great match with cheese, beef, lemon, and eggs.
Arugula combines very well with other leaves, such as lettuce or salad burnet, in big, seasonal green salads. These can be a fresh side to grilled meat or fish, or steal the scene as the main course if enriched with nuts and some aged cheese.
The vibrant green of arugula makes it a perfect ingredient for pesto: pair it with your favourite nuts - walnuts are the best complement to arugula pungency -, add a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. You’ll find yourself with a pungent dressing for pasta that doubles as a dip for vegetables or spread for toast.
In Romagna, on the Adriatic coast, arugula is often paired with prosciutto crudo and stracchino, a soft, slightly sour cow cheese, as stuffing for piadina, the local flatbread, one of the most beloved Italian street foods.
A natural match with beef, it’s generously scattered over tagliata, a sliced grilled steak bathed in good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. You’ll also find it co-starring in carpaccio, with paper-thin slices of raw veal, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, or bresaola, a lean dried salted beef from the Valtellina in the North of Italy. Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano adds an umami boost to the dish, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar rounds out its taste.
To ease into spring in the kitchen, pick up a bunch of arugula at the closest farmers market and mingle its peppery notes with apples, walnuts, and cheese. When at the market, choose leaves that are fresh, crisp and bright green, and avoid arugula when it looks wilted, bruised, yellowing or spotting.
What about you? Do you like arugula? or is it too connected to ‘80s dishes for you? How do you like to use it in the kitchen?
RECIPE - Arugula, Apple, and Walnut Salad
This salad is perched between winter and spring, with arugula’s peppery hot notes tamed by slices of tart apple and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Walnuts are a perfect complement to arugula and add a pleasant crunchy note.
I shower the salad with ricotta salata, aged ricotta. The smoked variety is typical of the Veneto region, but otherwise, it’s very common in the Italian South, especially in Puglia and Sicily. I find it a versatile cheese that you can grate over salad or pasta (I love it with orecchiette and a fresh tomato sauce), mix into a stuffing, or even thinly slice and serve as an appetizer along with jam or chutney. It has a milky, savoury flavour, and it can be substituted with grated Pecorino Romano or provolone.
Serve this salad as a side to a grilled steak or rack of lamb, or even simply with a milky ball of mozzarella, along with a few slices of crusty bread.
Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer
200 grams/7 ounces arugula
1 handful walnuts
1 tart apple
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
25 grams/¼ cup grated ricotta salata, or pecorino Romano
Rinse the arugula under running water and dry it thoroughly, either with a kitchen towel or in a salad spinner. Collect it into a large bowl.
Lightly toast the walnuts in a pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a cutting board. When enough cool to handle, chop finely with a knife. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apple.
Add the walnuts to the salad along with the apple slices, then toss with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Finish with the grated ricotta salata and serve immediately.
Easter and nightmares
Easter came at the end of a very emotional week: publication day, and two very bad reviews on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk that somehow ruined the celebrations and gave me nightmares for a couple of nights.
We knew we had to expect them, but we didn’t expect them so soon, certainly, we did not expect them to be so sharp and painful - and totally not based on reality. I ended up venting my frustration here on Chat, something I regret, but we have been immediately overwhelmed by the kindest messages and words, that led to touching reviews.
Last but not least, it seems that Amazon is having problems with the stocking of books in its warehouses. Unfortunately, Cucina Povera seems to be unavailable on Amazon stores outside the U.S. and Canada, and it has cancelled orders previously placed. If you want your copy, the easiest choice is to order it directly at a local bookstore (long live independent bookstores!)
But there’s a lesson to be learnt. As a very good friend told me over the weekend, we cannot please everyone, we’re not pizza.
So during the Easter weekend, we opted for plenty of off-line time spent outside and with our family, nibbling on chocolate eggs with Livia and drinking sparkling wine with friends at 5 pm to celebrate the cookbook release.
Thankfully, for Easter lunch, we were invited by my mom. She prepared: the ever-present lasagne alla bolognese, chicken cacciatore (the recipe is in Cucina Povera on page 98) and roasted lamb with peas. I only had to take care of a few dishes: hard-boiled eggs to be blessed (from the Pope on TV), stewed an actual bucket of fresh artichokes (carciofi ritti, recipe on the blog) and baked the Via Carota Ricotta Cheesecake, a new family favourite. I baked also another chocolate cake for Livia’s breakfast, something really simple I might share soon! It’s her favourite cake as it doesn’t crumble - she is a Virgo girl, and she likes her cakes sliced neatly!
Cooking Experience in Tuscany with us
Slow down and be ready to live a day as a local: hearty homemade food is included. Every meal will be an excuse to travel through Tuscany thanks to local recipes, memories and stories. Learn more about our cooking classes here.
Next available openings:
Wednesday, April 26th - Market to Table Cooking Class - 2 spots available
Wednesday, May 17th - Market to Table Cooking Class - 2 spots available
Wednesday, June 7th - Market to Table Cooking Class - 2 spots available
Thursday, June 8th - Tuscan Cooking Class - 6 spots available
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