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Arugula-bloom love

(article, Deborah Madison)

Not long ago, I mentioned my new [/columns/deborah/thefitsandstartsofspring "raised beds, complete with hoops and covers."] Installed last fall, they hold quite a few crops, some of which went through the winter. 

Right now, in early May, I‘ve got golden chard; the old plants are big and gorgeous while new seedlings are coming along. Carrots (all colors) are just coming up, as are spinach and the Jerusalem artichokes — their rosettes of leaves remind me of starfish. There’s garlic, lots of lettuce, peas, French breakfast and golden radishes, and arugula. I can put together a modest salad for two each day, to which I add torn lovage leaves, snipped sorrel, tarragon, and chives. Life is good.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="Dressed with walnut oil and red-wine vinegar, arugula leaves and blossoms are especially good with hard-cooked eggs."] 

With their covers on, the beds act as little greenhouses. I reach inside and they’re warm, moist, and protective, whereas outside it’s cool, dry, and windy. Plants grow like crazy in that atmosphere — especially the arugula. My eight feet of overgrown arugula plants are proving to be a popular dining area for bees. When I stick my head in to pick some leaves for a salad, it’s all abuzz inside.  

As we are just a few days away from our last freeze date, I’ve pulled off the covers to let the plants breathe, get some sun, and also improve my view. I get tired of looking at the covers — I want to see green! But the main thing I’m seeing is a mass of cream-colored arugula blossoms. 

Each bloom has four slender petals, which indicates that arugula is one of the crucifers, or cross-shaped-blossom families, like broccoli. The petals are held in a purple-brown narrow “cup,” and the veins that run through the leaves are the same color. There are several flowers on each wiry stem and a cluster of unopened buds at each tip. 

Modest, delicate flowers, arugula blooms are showy only if you’re into their subtle colors. But they’re hardly worthless. When I wanted flowers for the dining-room table, I picked a bunch, put them in a vase, and they lasted for a good week, so there’s one thing you can do with a mass of flowering arugula. 

The leaves on the lower part of the plant are still quite good, even though seedpods are already forming. (I grow the so-called wild variety, with its smaller, narrow, deeply cut leaves. I don’t know if the other arugula holds up as well.) I pick the leaves and toss them a little walnut oil and a few drops of aged red-wine vinegar, and serve with a shower of blossoms on top — a simple and stunning salad. (Use olive oil if you don’t have walnut.) 

I find the warm, nutty flavor of arugula is especially good with hard-cooked eggs. Make your favorite egg salad, serve it on some of the arugula leaves, and again, garnish with the blossoms. Add chive blossoms too, if you have them. The arugula blossoms are also nice with asparagus. More than nice, actually, for like all herb blossoms, they echo the flavor of the leaves.

While I should be pulling these plants out and putting in something new, I can’t quite bring myself to do it. With a [/books/bookexcerpts/whatweeatwhenweeatalone "new book"] out, I don’t have time; at least, that’s my excuse. But really, I’m just completely in love with these exquisite little flowers, and I know they’ll be finished soon enough. Then, the seedpods. What about them? That's another story.

p(bio). Deborah Madison is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks, including Local Flavors. She lives in New Mexico.

reference-image, l