I never really knew much about arugula until I was lucky enough to travel to Italy for my 25th anniversary. Tucked away on the back streets of Rome we had our first experience with the fresh cuisine of the country at a place called Trattoria La Toscanella.
The first course was an antipasto salad and one of the ingredients was rocket, which I learned later was wonderful arugula. The fresh greens were one of the things that made the salad special. That day changed the way we looked at meals. Even though we ate lots of summer produce, this meal opened our eyes to the value of all fresh foods.
Since then I've grown lots of arugula, and it's certainly not for everyone.
It has a pungent, somewhat spicy flavor, I think it's one of those love-it-or-hate-it greens. Arugula is easy to grow by direct sowing seeds early in the spring, but it need to be sowed several times during the season as hot weather makes it go to seed. Once that happens, arugula turns bitter and inedible.
I've been searching the seed catalogs for different varieties and stumbled onto one that looks very interesting in the Seeds of Change catalog. What makes Sylvetta Arugula (Italian Rustic) Diplotaxis Muralis so interesting is that instead of being an annual, it's a tender perennial. It's hardy to zone 6, that's close enough to give it a try in Pittsburgh's climate. The catalog describes the green as having classic taste with a slightly sharper, peppery flavor. It's smaller than it's annual cousin, grows slower and has more deeply cut leaves.
Since I'm really into wintering plants over in the garden, this one should be an interesting variety to experiment with. I'll probably plant two crops, one in the spring and one in fall. I'll protect the plantings at the end of the season with mulch and a floating row cover in hopes of picking some for our traditional Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. I picked lettuce this year for the event; arugula doesn't seem like much of a stretch.
Fresh is better, especially in the middle of winter.