Arugula – also called rocket – is a favorite in salads for its peppery bite and vibrant green color. It’s a relative newcomer in America (the word first appeared in 1960) but has been cultivated in Italy since ancient Roman times. Chefs use it for its ability to stand up to bold flavors and add a bit of spice.
“Arugula is my favorite green, hands down,” says The Mixx chef-owner Jo Marie Scaglia. “It has a nice, bold flavor. It’s kind of pungent, a little spicy, and it holds up well. It’s a sturdy green.” Scaglia uses arugula in several salads and sandwiches at The Mixx's three locations in Country Club Plaza and Power & Light in Kansas City and Overland Park, Kansas. This spring, it will show up on two featured seasonal dishes: Trail Mixx salad and fresh tuna sliders. “The salad is kind of a take on things you might find in a trail mix, and we’ll do fresh tuna sliders with a little arugula, pickled red onions, a chef’s tartar sauce and brioche mini buns,” she says. For breakfast, available at the Overland Park location, you’ll find arugula on the Sunrise BLT with griddled eggs, bacon, tomato, Cheddar and garlic aïoli on a toasted grain roll.
The Mixx, multiple locations, mixxingitup.com
CHEF'S TIP: “For simple pasta dishes, I like to toss [arugula] with homemade roasted tomato sauce with fresh basil, garlic and shallots, and a nice cheese on top. It adds a nice flavor and pretty color. I’m Italian, so I like that a lot!” –Jo Marie Scaglia, chef-owner, The Mixx
At one of St. Louis’ most venerated fine-dining spots, Tony’s, chef Vince Bommarito is upping the arugula ante. “We’re having a local farmer grow some arugula sprouts for us,” he says. “We have to be careful with those because they’re really, really peppery.” This spring, Bommarito is sautéing arugula with salsify, a root vegetable, and ramps, when they’re available, to go with whatever fish he can get. He says the smooth, clean taste of salsify pairs well with peppery arugula; the sprouts sit on top as a garnish. “I’ve always liked arugula. We do arugula salad on our chicken Milanese at [sister restaurant] Anthony’s Bar,” he says. “I like the cold salad on the hot, crispy chicken. I just think it’s a great way to put a little pepper into a dish without using pepper.”
Tony's, 410 Market St., Downtown, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.231.7007, tonysstlouis.com
Beer is the star at Broadway Brewery in Columbia, Missouri, but items like rosemary Buffalo wings, trout hushpuppies and meatloaf patty melts are a close second. Arugula tops lamb sliders on the dinner menu, along with pickled red onion, Feta and tzatziki sauce. “It’s kind of spicy and peppery, and the lamb itself is kind of sweet, so we feel that’s a good contrast,” says executive chef Chris Pender. “It’s just an interesting green overall. It stands up to many things, whereas lettuce is just kind of watery and bland.” Broadway Brewery sources its arugula locally whenever possible; currently co-owner Walker Claridge is growing it himself on his farm. You can also find arugula in the brewery’s steak salad, which is marinated flank steak on a bed of arugula tossed with dried cherries, blue cheese, tomato, thinly sliced radishes and a maple-cider vinaigrette; Pender uses fried arugula on top of pecan-crusted trout as well. The chef says he’s seen an uptick in interest in arugula in the past few years. “But I see more interest in all kinds of greens,” he says. “The old iceberg-romaine blend isn’t cutting it anymore.”
Broadway Brewery, 816 E Broadway, Columbia, Missouri, 573.443.5054, broadwaybrewery.com