Ingredient Introduction #38 & #39 – Arugula & Grape Seed Oil

It’s Fall… and that means a crunchy collection of colors all over the backyard.

And as dwindling ruby-red grapefruit/macaroni-and-cheese hued heaps hang onto their branches for dear-life in a scene which could only be recreated by that artist with an afro, my kitchen is honoring the look the falling fun had before it lost the Spring in its step.

Gorgeous greens are so easy to find, especially at the farmers’ markets.

That’s where I picked up a bunch of arugula.

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It sounds like something you’d say in a fake-cough meant to mock someone.

What’s even funnier, is that it’s also called “salad rocket?” How fun! I had no idea until I solicited blog ideas on Facebook and my dear friend, Carla, suggested “salad rocket.” I hit Google, and bam, I learned something.

That’s not just a tactic to get kids to eat rabbit food.

Rocket comes from Northern Italy’s ruchetta, which became roquette in France, and then rocket in England.

Romans considered arugula to be an aphrodisiac. Nothing says lovin’ like a leaf. I mean, maybe you can tie it to the whole leaf covering Adam and Eve’s… ah.. fruit.. and maybe that makes it sexy?

Well, actually, it’s tied to the fact that minerals and antioxidants in leafy greens help stop the absorption of environmental nasties that mess with our libido.

But I digress.

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Arugula is an easy way to spice up a salad or sandwich and add pizazz to a freshly baked pizza.

It’s slightly bitter, peppery, and mildly mustardy.

Unlike lettuce, it’s packed with flavor.

That makes me think of leaves like sage and basil.

I took inspiration from the latter and used the arugula to make pesto.

Here’s what you need:
4 cups arugula
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup of almonds (unsalted)
½ cup of grape seed oil

Add the arugula, garlic, cheese…

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almonds…

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salt, and a few cracks of pepper to a food processor.

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Give it a few pulses.

Then, with the machine running, drizzle in the oil.

Process until everything is incorporated, but the pesto is still somewhat chunky.

Taste, and add salt if needed.

I chose to use grape seed oil for a few reasons:
I’d always wanted to try it. I found it at Ross for good money ($7.99). Its nutty, neutral flavor doesn’t overpower the oil’s co-stars.

Behold, my second ingredient introduction in this post.

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Grape seed oil is just what its name suggests, oil made from grape seeds.

It has a high smoke point, which means it can handle high temperatures. So, it’s used for deep frying and sauteeing.

Cooking at high heat is believed to harm the oil’s healthy fats, so it’s good to use it as-is in salads.

It worked perfectly in my pesto.

To be honest with you, I flipped out just a little (ok, a lot) when I opened the bottle and noticed that the oil was really green. I was afraid it was rancid.

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Turns out, that’s a good thing. It’s a sign that it was made with less processing and without chemicals. Woo hoo!

So, I started to rave about the color. A vibrant, Emerald City-like green.

And that just added to the intensity of the gorgeous green pesto.

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I made a batch of penne pasta and tossed the pesto with the hot noodles. Adding a little pasta water helps the sauce spread and cling to the macaroni.

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I added the zest and juice of one lemon just to add a little zing.

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Toss on a little Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you have one heck of a meal.

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The almonds gave it texture. The garlic was obvious. The arugula was indeed peppery, and slightly pungent.

This is a brighter pesto (in color and flavor) than its basily-buddy.

The arugula is high in Vitamins A, C, and K, and it gives you a good bit of calcium, iron, and potassium. Beat that, iceberg!

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Grape seed oil gives you a good amount of Vitamin E. It’s loaded with antioxidants and is said to raise good cholesterol and lower the bad kind. And it’s green, BRIGHT green! I’m excited to use it for salad dressing.

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If you like traditional pesto, I think you’ll love this. It’s different… in a good way.

I don’t feel like I broke some sacred rule that the pesto gods would frown upon. Let’s face it. “Pesto” comes from a word meaning to pound or crush, so it’s referring to the method not the ingredients.

Go, pound out some arugula pesto. I know you’ll rocket. Get it?

Tip: Use the arugula pesto as a sauce for chicken or as a sandwich spread. If you go the sandwich route, add some arugula leaves instead of lettuce.

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