Do You Really Need a Recipe?

October 5, 2009


I don’t know when I first tasted arugula.  Maybe it was in the early 90’s when fancy lettuces starting making appearances in restaurant salads.  Whenever it was, it was a revelation for me.  How could something so green taste so peppery?  How could lettuce have so much flavor?

In the years since, I have learned to use arugula as much as possible in as many ways as possible.  I love it in salads of course, but I also love it in pasta and on top of pizza.  These days it seems that arugula comes in two varieties – baby leaves in a bag or large leaves in a bunch.  I find the large leaves almost too peppery for a salad (unless it was paired with something sweet like beets) and the small leaves are too delicate for cooked dishes.  If anyone out there knows of a medium arugula leaf, I’d sure like to hear about it.


I made this pasta dish the other night with some arugula that came in our CSA box.  As I was making it, I wondered whether I would post about it.  Is this the kind of thing that you really need a recipe for?  Doesn’t it seem kind of obvious?  I visit so many sites where the food is incredible and original and I wasn’t sure my humble pasta could keep up.  But then I realized that sometimes we food  bloggers can kind of live in a bubble.  Just a few years ago, I would have needed a written recipe to make something this good.  I couldn’t have come up with it on my own.  The years I spent being a personal chef have made me a better, more adventurous, and creative cook.  And having this CSA box come each week has been a big challenge.  So here you go.

Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Arugula

Dana Treat Original
Serves 3-4

If you like your pasta saucy, use the 12 ounces of dried pasta suggested here.  If you like it a little drier (or you have big eaters in your family), use a full pound.

Olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
28 oz. can crushed Italian tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
Half a bunch of large arugula leaves, stems discarded and torn into roughly 2-inch pieces
2 small handfuls grated mozzarella cheese
12 oz. short pasta, such as rigatoni
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Put a large skillet on the stove over medium heat.  Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom and then add the garlic.  Stir constantly until starting to brown, then add the tomatoes (they will splatter a bit).  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a few turns of pepper.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.  Add the basil about halfway through the cooking time.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet with the sauce.  Add the arugula and mozzarella cheese then toss carefully toss everything together.  You will want the noodles coated with sauce, the arugula to wilt, and the cheese to melt slightly.  Serve in shallow bowls with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.


  1. Sometimes I struggle with writing out my recipes. To me they just seem easy, throw everything together:) I love arugula. It always adds something special to any dish!

    Comment by Maria — October 5, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

  2. Dana,

    You would love my yard. I’ve planted tons of arugula over the last few years and I can’t ever rip the plants out if they go to seed – the yellow flowers are so pretty. I now have renegade arugula all over my yard – both the wild, Italian kind and the more broad-leaf kind. When we mow, you can smell arugula (and parsley, dill, lemonbalm & mint) everywhere. You’re right, I don’t really need a recipe for this dish. But a reminder of how much I love it? That I did need! Thank you!

    Comment by Kristina — October 5, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

  3. That sounds really good and it’s great to have some dishes like this up your sleeve when you need something easy but still awesome tasting. I am excited because I have planted arugula in my fall garden. I’m sure I’ll be trying this one if my plants do well!

    Comment by Katie @ goodLife {eats} — October 6, 2009 @ 12:36 am

  4. I don’t think there is ever anything wrong with uncomplicated, simple recipes! In fact, I’m always looking for these types of recipes. I almost bought a big bunch of arugula today at Whole Foods- now I wish I had! P.S. I finally made roasted cauliflower the other night after having read about it ages ago on your blog. I am now completely addicted and I even emailed the link to the post to my grandmother! Thanks!

    Comment by Emily Rose — October 6, 2009 @ 12:42 am

  5. oh those cheese shreds have me salivating!!!! i love this.

    Comment by Tracy — October 6, 2009 @ 2:44 am

  6. I can’t live without arugula.
    I put it on everything and in every pasta dish and top every pizza with it. I love that spicy peppery taste.
    It doesnt do well in our garden, NJ gets too hot and arugula always wilts.
    and I find my best dishes are prepared on the fly, without a recipe!
    See you soon!

    Comment by Stacey Snacks — October 6, 2009 @ 3:02 am

  7. I used to hate rocket (that’s what we call arugula in the UK, and sometimes in Canada, too) but I’m learning to like it more. One of the first ways I got used to it was in pasta, then I graduated to pizzas, salads, etc. My fave pasta with rocket is a Nigella Lawson recipe, with chili, garlic and white wine. VERY good.

    Comment by Ele — October 6, 2009 @ 6:17 am

  8. I can’t understand whether arugula stays for the italian “rucola” but I guess so, I’ll try and add it to my “pasta alla partenopea” next time I do it. It’s just the same recipe as yours with mozzarella (or better burrata!) at the end: simple, apparently just an idea and not a recipe but so… yummie!

    You find it here, unfortunately in italian =)

    Comment by Chiara — October 6, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  9. PS: this simple garlic, tomato and basil sauce is called in Italy “sugo finto” which means “mock sauce”. The sauce is “mock” compared to the various kinds of classic “sugo” which involve meat.

    Comment by Chiara — October 6, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

  10. PPS (and then I shut up!)
    Just another curiosity as you appear to be so passionate about food and eating habits: in Italy we never add Parmesan if the sauce contains no meat.

    Comment by Chiara — October 6, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  11. wow that sounds delicious! I love arugula… so peppery and spicy :) I love it on pizza and sandwiches too!

    Comment by Gaby — October 6, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  12. I buy wild arugula in a bag from Trader Joe’s — it’s small but relatively hardy and has a great texture. People who are novices always want to learn to cook without recipes and I tell them that recipes are the key to cooking when you start out – learn from people who are more experienced, and as you get more familiar and comfortable with recipes you start to understand how to work and how to change them to suit your taste and your vision.

    Comment by Kate @ Savour Fare — October 6, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  13. I’m glad you shared this recipe! It looks delicious. I rarely ever cook with arugula.

    Comment by Ashley — October 8, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

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