Cook Down Arugula For A More Mellow Flavor

A fixture in salad mixes and atop fancy Neapolitan pizzas, arugula packs a spicy, bitter punch. If you're not the biggest fan of bitter greens, you don't have to discount arugula completely. Instead, you can cook it down to mellow its flavor. Cooking arugula will soften both its flavor and texture while also infusing it with the seasonings, liquids, or fat used to cook it. Plus, since arugula is a delicate, leafy green, it'll cook down in a matter of minutes.

A quick and flavorful way to feature arugula as a standalone side dish is to saute it. Arugula, like spinach, will reduce in volume significantly as it cooks and releases water, so you'll need at least two large bags of it to feed a small group. To saute it, first fry aromatics in oil or butter, creating a flavorful infusion for the arugula. Add arugula to the saute pan in batches, placing in more as each batch cooks down. 

The arugula will release a lot of its bitterness through the water it secretes as it cooks. Sauteing arugula will take about three minutes, and you'll want to use a slotted spoon to remove it without taking the residual water with it. You can season simply with salt and pepper or make a sauce by heating more oil, seasonings, and vinegar in the saute pan before adding the drained, cooked arugula back into the pan, stirring to coat.

Cooked arugula dishes and ingredient pairings

While you're mellowing arugula's spicy bite by cooking it, you can still use seasonings, sauces, and other ingredients to highlight its residual pepperiness. A mixture of olive oil and butter will add a balance of earthiness and dairy richness to complement the bitter, peppery profile. Lemon zest and juice or a pour of sweet sherry or apple cider vinegar will further temper arugula's bite with a bright, citrusy-sweet tang. Since it's often used to top pizza, you could also throw common pizza toppings like onions, red bell peppers, pancetta, or prosciutto into the saute.

Raw arugula is a popular addition to pesto sauce, so you could draw inspiration from its ingredients to embellish sauteed arugula with shaved parmesan, toasted pine nuts, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Saute arugula and garlic as the base for a creamy pasta sauce like Alfredo or vodka sauce to give the dish an attractive pop of green. Or simply saute up a portion with mushrooms and egg for breakfast.

While sauteeing is the best method for cooking arugula as a side dish, you can also incorporate the green leaves into other dishes, using the residual heat to passively cook it and temper its bitterness. For example, substitute spinach for arugula to wilt into a Tuscan white bean soup or minestrone. Another tasty, earthy application for arugula is to stir it into a piping hot pot of creamy polenta or mashed potatoes with roasted garlic.