Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Arugula: From Pesto to Pizza and Back

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This past winter, I lived with two very lovely ladies who made gourmet look easy. It wasn't uncommon to drag myself home from work on a Monday night and find a lovely cheese plate waiting on me. On top of that, there was an endless supply of white wine on hand (thank you, Fresh Direct), a close-to-endless supply of truffle oil in the kitchen (aka: 'the death of me') and usually a fire burning in our real-live working NYC fireplace (hot damn!). Times were good. The food was even better.

It's in this classy environment that I was introduced to the handy-dandy pita pizza, to which I ALWAYS added arugula. If there's no arugula, there's no pita pizza. That's just how it's got to be.

Arugula or rocket, as they call it across the pond, is a cruciferous vegetable, originally harvested in the Mediterranean region. It's a bit spicy with a slight peppery flavor. Clearly, I enjoy arugula because it reminds me of my first love pepper, but there are many other reasons to love this leafy green. 

Here's why you should give arugula a little 'look-see'...

  • The dark green leaves of arugula mean it's packed with chlorophyll (high school science class, here we come!), and chlorophyll has been shown to protect against liver and DNA damage
  • Eating arugula helps you build healthy red blood cells because it's full of iron. 
  • Arugula provides you with a good measure of calcium, magnesium and potassium, which regulate blood pressure and preserve bone health. 
  • Remember those cancer-preventing and cancer-fighting phytochemicals we talked about before? Well, arugula is packed with them! Studies have suggested that they're good for keeping ovarian, cervical, breast, prostate and colon cancers away. 
  • Arugula is packed with vitamin K, among other vitamins. Vitamin K aids in bone health and helps to keep your blood healthy.
  • Arugula is a great source of fiber too. 
  • And if you're not convinced yet, you might like to know that the ancient Roman and Egyptian civilizations considered arugula to be an aphrodisiac. What's not to love? (No pun intended)

When buying arugula, it's important to buy organic. This leafy green tends to hold onto lots of dirt and pesticides. The bad news is those pesticides are absorbed into the leaves, so even washing them won't solve the problem. The good news is organic arugula is not that much more expensive (especially at your local Trader's Joe's), and if you don't have a local Trader Joe's, well then, we have much larger problems.

Here's my recipe for a quick, easy and nutrition-packed pita pizza...

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and gather whatever ingredients your heart so desires. I chose to make a bella mushroom and baby zucchini pizza topped with fresh arugula. Chop the veggies up to your desired size for toppings.

On a non-stick pan, place your whole-wheat pitas (extra healthy!) and drizzle or brush very lightly with olive oil. You can also chop up garlic to sprinkle on your crust.

Now, top your pizzas with the spaghetti sauce of your choice. Homemade would always be better, but sometimes this girl is just pressed for time! My staple sauce is Classico Traditional Sweet Basil.

Now, create a masterpiece with your toppings of choice. Don't be afraid to pile them on.

Every good pizza needs spices... sprinkle a little bit of everything lightly on top! I used a pinch of garlic salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and basil.

Now pop your pizza into the oven for about 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep an eye on it. You'll want to take it out once the crust looks a little brown and crispy and the toppings have almost cooked completely.

Now, thinly slice your fresh mozzarella. This makes all the difference!

Take your pizza out of the oven and spread the mozzarella slices on top. Turn your oven to broil and cook for approximately 5 more minutes, until the cheese has melted to your liking. You broil it so that JUST the top cooks, while keeping the crust and veggies from cooking more than they should.

Pull those suckers out and try to have some self control...we still have to add the most important ingredient!

Top with fresh arugula. I chose baby arugula because it's pretty cute.

Plate that pizza and impress someone. You're done.

Here are two more recipes to get you started...

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