Last winter, rushing to beat a mighty snowstorm that laid waste to most of my yard, we fashioned a makeshift cover for my still-thriving greens garden. We drove old tent stakes into the ground, connected those with PVC pipe, then draped sheets of thick plastic and layers of moving blankets on top of the whole thing. You get the picture: pretty, it was not.
But after enduring the sight of the clumsy thing for four long months, I pulled the top off. Underneath was a small sea of emerald green, like gemstones scattered across the dirt. My tiny farm of arugula had endured the winter, in spite of months of freezing temperatures and heavy snows.
I later learned that in most parts of the country, arugula will survive the winter, so long as it’s protected from extended periods of below-freezing temperatures and the weight of heavy snows that will break its tender stems. And it’s a fine choice of greens to grow in abundance: like broccoli and cauliflower, it’s a cruciferous vegetable, but easier to grow and more versatile than others. And like all crucifers, it contains healing compounds that protect against cancer and have anti-inflammatory properties in the body.
Next fall, with some preparation and help from the experts, we’ll make an adequate cover — one that doesn’t reveal my lack of expertise and experience. This year, we’re feeling pretty smug about having a full crop of greens in March. Here’s what we did with them:
Arugula Salad with Fig and Thyme Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons Quick Fig Jam (see recipe below) or fig jam of your choice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup very coarsely chopped walnuts
8 cups loosely packed baby arugula leaves
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced crosswise
Shaved Manchego cheese
1. Combine fig jam, balsamic vinegar and thyme leaves in a small bowl, and stir until smooth. Whisk in olive oil. (Dressing should be fairly thick; add a teaspoon or two of water, if desired, to thin.) Season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a small pan over medium heat, and toast walnuts, tossing and stirring frequently, until just golden, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Combine arugula, onion, walnuts and cheese in a large bowl, and toss to mix. Add enough dressing to lightly coat salad, and toss again. Divide salad between four individual plates, and serve immediately.
Quick Fig Jam
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup chopped dried figs
1/2 cup apple juice
1 cup water, divided
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until mixture is thick and sticky, but still moist. Remove lid and cook for 5 more minutes, or until water is evaporated.
2. Transfer mixture to a small food processor and process into a thick paste. Using a rubber spatula, scrape mixture out and transfer to a bowl.
3. Serve warm, or refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours and serve chilled. Store, refrigerated, in a glass jar for up to two weeks.
Arugula-Peach Salad with Pistachios
1/2 cup unsalted raw pistachios
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons finely minced basil leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups packed baby arugula leaves
1/2 of a small red onion, very thinly sliced crosswise into rings
2 large, firm peaches, pitted, cut into quarters, and thinly sliced crosswise
1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and toast pistachios for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside to cool. Whisk together vinegar, shallot and basil in a small bowl. Whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Combine arugula, onions and peaches in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to mix. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, divide between four individual plates, top with pistachios, and serve immediately.
Arugula, Sugar Snap and Green Pea Salad with Basil-Mint Dressing
6 cups baby arugula leaves
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons minced basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced mint leaves
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed to room temperature
3 cups baby arugula leaves or baby spinach leaves
1. Boil one inch of water in a medium pot with a steamer basket. Steam sugar snaps for 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove from heat and spread on a plate to cool.
2. While peas are steaming, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, shallot, basil and mint together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Combine cooled sugar snaps with arugula and green peas in a large bowl. Add dressing, and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, divide salad between individual plates, and serve immediately.