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 right about now 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 really needs to be made in 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 friend 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 pesto. Instructions are below.
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.
- 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)
- 100 grams semolina flour (about a heaping cup)
- 100 grams all-purpose flour (about a level cup)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 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.
- If you are making the pasta, mix the ingredients together and knead for 5 minutes or so until you get an elastic, softish dough. Either wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature or vacuum seal the dough, which will hydrate it instantly.
- To roll out the dough, cut off a piece about the size of a candy bar and roll it into a log on a clean work surface. Roll until the log is about 1/2 inch thick, cutting the log in half if that makes it easier for you to work with. Slice the log into 1/4-inch thick disks. Dust with flour if they are very sticky, but a little sticky is OK.
- Anchor each disk with your thumb and with the forefinger and middle finger of your other hand stretch the dough into a flatter disk almost to the ripping point, usually about 1/3 of an inch or so. You'll get the hang of it. The end shape looks a lot like orecchiette.
- Boil the pasta in salty water until it floats, then for another minute or two. Toss with the pesto and serve.
Drink a dry rosé or a crisp white wine with this. For beers, go with a pale ale, a session IPA or a wheat beer. And actually, this is pretty good with macro beers like Bud and Coors, too.