Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Pasta Salad Is Really all About the Arugula

by 
Julie Laing
October 29, 2021

I thought I was pretty greens savvy growing up. In my parents’ huge garden, I learned that even simple leaf lettuce could—and should—have flavor. I went vegetarian in my teens and sought out mixed leafy greens long before they became the default salad base. But I’d never even heard of arugula until I left the United States.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s on the U.S. West Coast, chain supermarkets regularly classified arugula as an herb. Today’s walls of mixed greens in plastic clamshells didn’t exist. Lettuces, spinach, and other greens were simply sold by the head or bunch. But not arugula. Its rare appearances were inside a tiny blister pack hung alongside rosemary and sage. The packaging weighed more than the food inside. If you were new to arugula, you wouldn’t easily stumble upon it and discover its bright, spicy flavor — at least, I never did.

To become a fan of arugula, I had to travel more than 5,000 miles to the U.K. In London, bundles of funny-shaped leaves called rocket took up serious real estate in the produce section and cost less than many lettuces I readily recognized. I started noticing rocket on menus. Then I bought a cookbook from the vegetarian chain Cranks and truly discovered rocket, aka arugula.

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For the rest of my time in London, saving every quid I could for travel and eating on the cheap, I devoured arugula. At least twice a week I blanched some asparagus, shaved a hunk of Parmesan, and toasted a handful of almonds. These were thrown atop as much arugula as I could stuff in a lunch container before rushing to the tube for work. At lunchtime, my co-workers always seemed amused by the American girl with her tub of fresh greens and tiny canister of homemade vinaigrette, sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows behind her desk and gawking at the city from the 14th floor.

When I returned stateside, I combed the supermarket for arugula. I finally found it, but it was no longer my cheap lunchtime go-to: I’d need at least half a dozen of the tiny herb blister packs, and deep pockets, to enjoy my now-favorite green. America’s idea of arugula was clearly meant to be sprinkled over salad, not form a deep layer beneath it. So I tracked down seed and grew my own. By the time U.S. tastebuds became hooked on spicy greens and arugula became a market staple, I’d progressed from enjoying it on my simple workday salad to tossing handfuls on grilled pizza, turning it into a bed for curried veg, preserving it as a pesto, and even “cooking” it, such as in the recipe I share here.

Don’t worry if techniques in this recipe seem unusual: each has a purpose. Lemon juice mellows the sharpness of raw garlic and keeps arugula bright and flavorful. Skipping the pasta rinse and using the starchy cooking water give the goat cheese something to cling to. Tossing in the arugula after the pot is off the heat keeps it from getting soggy. Toasted sliced almonds give bonus protein and crunch.

Penne with Wilted Arugula

Prep Time: 10 Mins
 | 
Cook Time: 12 Mins
 | 
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest and juice of 1 small lemon

4 oz arugula (about 4 cups)

1 16 oz box penne pasta

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

8 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Up to ½ cup soft goat cheese, crumbled and divided

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional: 2 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted

Prep Time: 10 Mins
 | 
Cook Time: 12 Mins
 | 
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest and juice of 1 small lemon

4 oz arugula (about 4 cups)

1 16 oz box penne pasta

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

8 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Up to ½ cup soft goat cheese, crumbled and divided

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional: 2 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, minced

Zest and juice of 1 small lemon

4 oz arugula (about 4 cups)

1 16 oz box penne pasta

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

8 oz cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Up to ½ cup soft goat cheese, crumbled and divided

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional: 2 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted

Directions

1. Fill a 5- to 6-qt pot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil.

2. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the tomatoes and garlic with the lemon zest and juice and 1/4 tsp salt. Let the garlic soak in the juice for 10 minutes, and then add the arugula and toss until coated. Let sit until ready to use.

3. Add the penne pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente, following package instructions.

4. Drain the pasta through a colander set over a large heatproof bowl. Using a small heatproof measuring cup, scoop out 1/4 cup of the pasta-cooking liquid and set aside; do not rinse the pasta.

5. Return the hot pasta to the pot and quickly stir in the oil. Immediately add half of the goat cheese, tossing to combine. Add the arugula-tomato-garlic-lemon mixture, and toss again. Put the lid on the pot and let it sit for 1–2 minutes, until the arugula wilts.

6. Gently toss the pasta, adding the reserved pasta-cooking liquid 1 tbsp at a time until the dish reaches your desired sauciness.

7. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among pasta bowls and top with the remaining goat cheese and almonds, if desired. Serve immediately.

About the Author

Julie Laing

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