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Winemaker's Journal — An abundance of arugula

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Arugula with prosciutto, asparagus and linguini

Mid spring is when garden greens begin to flourish and you can start to eat truly tasty and healthy food again. Even if you don't garden yourself, local farmers markets and grocery stores are ready to sell you locally grown produce.

I look forward to the year's first hot spell when my rows of arugula, turnip greens, mixed lettuces, beet greens, chard and kale come up like crazy and insist that I pick and eat my weight in salads and lightly cooked leafy vegetables. I pile them on sandwiches and pizzas. I add them to soups, risottos, pilafs and quiches. They look good and add an illusion of health beneath a steak or ribs.

Greens are the easiest things go grow. Throw some seed, add water and they're very likely to come up within a few weeks. A patch of greens is a great way to get youngsters interested in gardening, producing their own food and eating vegetables they might not otherwise consider putting in their mouth.

Also known as rocket, arugula will grow and bolt quickly in summer heat. When the garden gets ahead of you, make pesto, substituting arugula for basil, and use on crackers, sandwiches and pasta.

My favorite dish is pasta tossed with fresh arugula. The peppery, slightly bitter green adds terrific flavor and freshness to any kind of sauce. Earlier this week I added a big handful of fresh-picked, washed arugula to my basic tomato sauce over orrecchetti (translates to little ears, but they look like little hats. Shells, spaghetti or any other pasta works fine too). 

Last night, I gave the greens more of a leading role, adding them to a lighter sauce of mushrooms, asparagus, a clove of chopped garlic and green onion sauteed in olive oil. I added one crushed cube of chicken bouillon, a glass of white wine and thin slices of prosciutto (or ham). If a little more liquid is desired, add a couple ounces of the hot water from the pasta pot.

When the pasta was cooked al dente (not totally limp), I strained in a colander and tossed it with the sauce, a squeeze of lemon, a large handful of arugula and a little crumbled feta cheese (or shaved parmesan). A perfect spring meal and very easy and delicious with a glass of chilled Pinot Gris or a dry Riesling.