Late last fall I planted a raised bed with arugula seeds. Arugula is one of my favorite greens and the thought of having it on a dreary winter day made me deliriously happy. We affixed flexible hoops to the sides of the bed and covered them with a large piece of frost cloth held down by rocks. Not exactly high-tech, but it works. Arugula is a cool weather crop so does well in winter if you protect it from the harshest weather.
Winter gardening is almost carefree at our scale; no bugs, no watering if it snows and rains, and best of all, no weeds. We had spicy arugula all winter. It’s oddly wonderful to harvest salad greens on a cold night when snow is starting to fall!
After five months in the ground, the arugula is budding and flowering in preparation for setting seed. We harvested all of it and I’m making pesto to eat now and some to freeze. I hate to waste even a leaf of the stuff!
The word pesto comes from the Italian verb pestare meaning to pound or crush. In the old days, they used a mortar and pestle (pestle comes from the same Italian root word), but I use a food processor. Arugula is fibrous so really needs the sharp blades to break it down. A blender will work in a pinch for basil pesto, but will jam and bind with the arugula fibers. Trust me on this; I speak from experience.
Pesto is usually a combination of these: something green (arugula, basil, parsley, mint, green beans, etc.), some nuts (pine nuts, almonds, walnuts), garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and grated Parmesan or other hard cheese. Once you’ve made it a few times, you can improvise and make it your own.
With all those flowers and buds in the arugula patch, I had to do a taste test. Turns out they are tender and spicy with a hint of sweetness. I threw some into the processor with the pesto ingredients and added the rest to a salad where they looked and tasted great.
The best part of pesto-making is tossing the pesto with hot pasta; the heat softens the cheese, marries the flavors and sets the emerald-green color of the arugula. I want some now!