March 4, 2012

When you think spring, think Arugula

When seasons change, so does the availability of local crops. Just as we say goodbye to parsnips and winter squash, we greet the arrival of asparagus with open arms. As spring approaches, I often find myself craving the spicy, robust flavors of arugula.

Arugual is a type of mustard green that is cultivated in temperate climates throughout Europe, Southwest Asia, and North America. Plants grow to about 2 feet tall, with dull green leaves that are lobed, much like the shape of an oak leaf. A trendy item at farmers' markets and high-end grocery stores, arugula's exceptional flavor is usually described as "peppery."

In the Willamette Valley, arugula is particularly popular among home gardeners. Not only does it grow well in the spring, summer, and fall, but as a bonus, the seeds are easy to collect and save for the next year.

From a culinary standpoint, arugula surprisingly versatile. It can be eaten alone with a simple dressing, or mixed with other greens in a salad. Like spinach, it can be sautéed; added to pasta fillings; or cooked into a soup. Arugula is especially delicious in a BLT.

The following recipe is designed to highlight arugula's natural flavor profile. Black pepper is incorporated to accentuate the spicy notes, while extra sharp cheddar cheese mimics the tang of arugula. Sausage is added as a supporting component to provide texture and a richness that can stand up to everything else. Aside from the black pepper, all of these ingredients are produced locally.

Frittata of Arugula and Sharp Cheddar Cheese - serves 4-8

10 eggs
0.5 cup cream
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. black pepper
5 oz. baby arugula
0.5 tsp. salt
1 cup sausage, precooked and diced small
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crack eggs into a medium-sized bowl. Pour cream over the eggs and stir to combine. Set aside.

Set a 10-inch wide, 2-inch deep cast iron skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. Add olive oil to the pan, followed by the black pepper, arugula leaves, and salt. You should have enough arugula to fill the pan. When the pan starts to sizzle, begin stirring every few seconds, allowing all of the arugula to wilt and cook down to one third its original volume. Add the diced sausage. Slowly pour the egg and cream mixture into the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon to break apart the clumps of arugula.

Place the pan into the oven, and bake for 6 minutes. Spread grated cheese over the top. Bake for an additional 6 to 8 minutes, or until the frittata starts to puff-up and rise in the pan.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Run your knife along the edge of the pan, then cut into desired number of slices. Serve and enjoy.

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