Somebody gives you flowers and you put them on the kitchen counter, and every time you see them you smile and feel fond of that person. It’s very nice. But the whole thing lasts only a week.
Here’s an idea for a way to be in your friends’ thoughts more perpetually. No guarantees on how fond those thoughts will be — that depends on your friends’ taste for peppery leaves.
Five years ago, Elspeth Hay bragged to us about the arugula that made her garden seem so generous in early summer. I’m sure she didn’t mean to brag, but, you know, she’s one of those locavore people. She has peach trees in her Wellfleet yard and a radio show on WCAI, and you just can’t help wanting your garden to be more like hers.
“What’s really great about this arugula is it re-seeds itself and comes up every year, all on its own,” she said. In other words (she didn’t say), it’s a weed.
The kind of arugula Elspeth turned us on to is the Italian variety, with smaller, skinnier leaves than the grocery store bunches have.
“ ‘Italian heirloom’ forms rosettes of deeply indented leaves with a piquant, tangy flavor,” says the Renee’s Garden seed packet. “Lasts longer than common arugula. Pretty edible yellow blossoms.”
One of those packets would be just the thing for people who miss the window for planting peas and get to the farmers market after Memorial Day weekend, when only the less-sought-after tomato plants are left. As long as they don’t mind those seeds producing plants that poke up between the patio stones, in the driveway, along the road — pretty much everywhere except for where you first planted them.
Just a few weeks from now, the leaves will be too spicy to eat, and the plants will send up tall wiry stems that lift those blossoms up high so they can send invisible seeds as far out of bounds as possible. But right now, they are perfect for an early summer salad. And with the weeding that will have to be done if there is any hope of keeping them under control still weeks away, I’m thinking of my friend Elspeth. She sure is swell.
My favorite arugula salad combines their leaves with another early crop, radishes, which have to be eaten now before they get too spicy and their time is up. The pepperiness of both ingredients is tamed by a creamy dressing made with whole milk yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil.
It’s a salad that I’ve changed only a little bit since first reading about it in the Saltie cookbook by Caroline Fidanza. That place, now gone from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, was the most perfect sandwich shop ever for a while, the kind that put together things like pickled eggs and sardines and arugula and radishes. I use less yogurt and more olive oil, lemon juice instead of vinegar, and add chive blossoms — they are ready in the garden at the same time as the radishes and arugula.
Arugula and Radish Salad
Enough for 4
2 handfuls tender arugula
8 small radishes
10 fresh chives
¼ cup whole milk yogurt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Crunchy sea salt
Chive blossoms for garnish
Wash and dry the arugula, slice the radishes or cut them into matchsticks if they’re big, and mince the chives. Pluck the chive blossom apart for the garnish.
Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, and lemon juice and dress and toss the greens, radishes, and minced chives with it.
Finish with an extra drizzle of olive oil and a good pinch of crunchy sea salt.