02/29/2012 09:22 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Fresh Pasta With Arugula

Is it pushing the season a bit to start thinking about fresh arugula?

Apparently not given the kind of mild winter we've been having. And to be sure, fresh arugula has been available all winter at indoor farmers' markets. Farmers have embraced the idea of year-round commerce in produce by growing greens in hoop houses and green houses on their farms, and by growing more long-keeping root crops during the season to sell all winter long.

One of the best uses I've found for arugula is in a recipe I first tried back in 1993. The recipe is in one of Paticia Wells' first cookbooks called, "Trattoria." In it, Wells gives us recipes from trattorie she visited all over Italy. BTW, I'm happy to report that Wells is alive and, (well) well, still living in Paris, and still cooking and writing.

I love this recipe and make it for special occasions although you shouldn't wait for one. It is extremely easy despite its unconventional treatment .

As is standard in Italian cooking, the ingredients are the stars and need to be top quality -- and this recipe is no exception. It calls for four ripe plum tomatoes, and although I rarely recommend buying tomatoes out of season, I might make an exeption for this dish -- just try to buy the ripest, most flavorful tomatoes you can find, and know where they are from (some farms, even in the northeast, grow tomatoes in the winter and ship them to supermarkets year-round. It's the closest you'll get to "local" tomatoes in the winter).

I've also used whole, canned San Marzano tomatoes which work well, or have eliminated tomatoes all together.

Fresh Pasta with Arugula
(makes 4-6 servings)

  • A 2 oz. chunk of Italian Parmigiano Reggiano (look for a piece that is a mellow yellow and without a thick rind)
  • Four cups (more if you love arugula) stemmed arugula leaves, washed, dried and coarsely chopped or torn (use the freshest leaves you can find. Buy arugula at a farmstand or organic grocery store in season or at winter farmers markets. Wash in several changes of water until all the grit is gone).
  • One quarter cup extra virgin olive oil (check the harvest date on the olive oil bottle -- you don't want oil that is older than a year if possible. Store it out of the light and in a cool place -- not the top of the stove, which looks great but is bad for the oil).
  • Four ripe plum tomatoes (use tomatoes in season if possible).
  • Three Tbs. coarse sea salt.
  • One lb fresh pasta like tonnarelli (looks like square spaghetti), fettucine, tagliatelle (another flat spaghetti), something with some surface area to grab the arugula. Ordinary spaghetti is too round and slippery).
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bring water in your pasta pot (about 6 qts.) to a rolling boil, but as the water is heating up place a large serving bowl over the pot so the bowl heats up too.

Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, shave the chunk of parmigiano into long thick strips and deposit 1/2 of it into the bowl that is on top of the pasta pot.

Add the arugula, the tomatoes, and the oil and toss it all together.

Remove the bowl when water comes to a rolling boil.

Add the coarse salt to the pasta water (if you haven't already) and cook the fresh pasta for a few minutes, until tender, then drain.

Add the drained pasta to the big bowl, toss, and season well with the fine sea salt and pepper. Divide up the pasta and top each serving with the remaining 1/2 of the parmigiano. Serve immediately with extra black pepper.