I've been 93 percent housebound for going on 10 days now (don't ask), which has given me plenty of time to reflect on things of extraordinary value. Things like my dryer's lint screen (how can something so simple work so well?), the inside of my bathrobe (so soft!), and why an out-of-print textbook I need for research costs $289 on Amazon (anyone?).
Foodwise, I've alternated between two poles: cooking up a storm of comfort foods -- polenta, pot roast, eggs, rice, and noodles -- and inhaling reams of produce so vivid it's like a CSA set up shop in my colon.
I've also had a chance to watch more food TV than anyone has a right to, and let me just say for the record that re-broadcasts of Nigella Bites from 2007, now on Cooking Channel, really are worth their salt. All Lawson has to do is call bagna cauda a "velvety gunge" (Party Girl episode), and I'm putty in her hands. Please don't take this as an endorsement of her role on the abomination otherwise known as The Taste, however, which just may be the worst TV show ever made. And I once saw Yes, Dear.
Amid the tumult, one constant in the past few days has been my obsessive compulsion to check the arugula plants growing outside my back door. My stepmother got them with me earlier this spring (she also bought me a FIG TREE), and she assured me that despite my questionable gardening history, they're easygoing plants that would certainly take. And you know what? She was right. I now have an arugula forest. I'm thinking of building a treehouse in one of the sturdier shoots.
Two, three, four times a day, I walk out back, feel the sun on my face, greet the gossipy doves nesting in the eaves, and pinch off a fistful of greens to shove in my mouth or toss more decorously into some semblance of a salad.
And here's the weird part, which won't surprise gardening sophisticates but may stun those of you who, like me, still find gardening more magic than logic: the more arugula I pluck, the more arugula I get. Pluck, get, pluck, get. If I just keep plucking it, eventually I'll become one of those cat-ladies suffocating in her own home, but my cats will be Italianate green leaves with a bracing, peppery bite.
I could give you about 5 billion ideas for how to use this much arugula, but let's start with the one below. You can also weigh in with your favorite uses, if you've got pet arugulas lounging about at your home as well.
Recipe for Tangerine Arugula Salad with lightly pickled dates and pepitas
Hurry and make this salad soon, before tangerines disappear altogether. Or substitute another brightly-colored fruit. There's no reason why strawberries, cherries, or even apricots (when they appear) wouldn't be equally lovely here as well. I owe a debt of gratitude to Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem, which taught me that splashing dates with vinegar delivers a flavorgift so sublime you'll want to smack yourself for not thinking of it sooner.
3 good-sized Medjool dates, pitted and slivered
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons raw, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 tablespoon each lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil
1 generous handful arugula
4-6 tangerines, peel and pith removed, sliced
1/4 cup pea shoots or other tender spring herbs
Place dates cut-sides up in a small bowl. Splash with the vinegar. Set aside until the vinegar absorbs.
Meanwhile, toast the pepitas in a dry skillet with a pinch of salt and pepper until they darken slightly, about 3 minutes.
Shake the lime juice, the oil, and another pinch of salt and pepper in a covered jar, or whisk well.
Layer the arugula, pickled dates, and tangerines in two shallow bowls. Sprinkle with the toasted pepitas and pea shoots or herbs. Dress with the lime vinaigrette, and enjoy right away.