Almost a decade ago, I fell in love with a kind of wild arugula called selvatica I saw in a seed catalog. The idea of wild arugula popping up all over the yard was pretty appealing. So I planted it all over the place. It’s a decision I have not regretted, although every spring I am overrun with the peppery green.
Selvatica is prettier and more peppery than supermarket arugula, but it’s disadvantage is that once the weather gets consistently above, say, 75°F, the leaves get impossibly bitter. It is also invulnerable to disease and attacks by pests, and grows a taproot to China, so once it’s in your yard it is there to stay. But this is a good thing, if you like arugula.
I do. And I especially like making arugula pesto with wild arugula and some wild pine nuts from our local bull pines.
Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle. Thus the name, which basically means “pounded.” If you do this, the flavors and texture will play together more smoothly than if you do this in a blender or food processor. But those work, too.
As for the pasta, I made some simple gnocchi ricci from my colleague Jenn Louis’ excellent book Pasta by Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta. It’s a stupid easy shape to make and works well with this arugula pesto.
So make some pesto, enjoy it today, then pack it into small jars and cover with olive oil. Kept in the fridge, it will last more than a week, and freezes beautifully.
Arugula Pesto with Pasta
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, chopped
- 2 tablespoons grated cheese (I like grana padano)
- About 2 cups chopped arugula
- Olive oil (use the good stuff)
- 1 pound pasta
- Put the garlic and pine nuts, plus a pinch of salt, into the mortar and pound it until the bits no longer jump out of the mortar. Add some of the cheese and some of the arugula a little at a time and keep pounding and mixing with the pestle. Keep doing this until you have a pretty good paste. Drizzle in a little olive oil and keep pounding. Keep doing this, little by little, until the pesto is the consistency you want: You'll need between 1/4 and 1 cup, depending on how loose you want the sauce. Cover the pesto with a layer of olive oil, or set plastic wrap directly on the pesto's surface (this prevents the arugula from turning brown), and set it aside at room temperature.
- Boil the pasta in salty water until it is ready, toss with the pesto and serve.