I was taught to harvest my arugula plants before they bolted and flowered because it would turn the leaves from tender and spicy to bitter and tough. It turns out, though, that bolting arugula has its own edible gift–the pale, cross-shaped flowers. They are delicious, delicately spicy and even a little sweet.
I didn’t know this a couple of weeks ago when I had lunch with friends at Fiola, Fabio Trabocchi’s new restaurant in Washington, D.C. Among the wonderful dishes we enjoyed was a shaved spring salad with fennel and baby fava beans. The salad was adorned with small, pale cream and purple cross-shaped flowers. I meant to ask what they were, but, wrapped up in lunchtime conversation, I forgot. Instead, I ate the salad but left the flower garnishes on my plate.
Which, it turns out, is too bad for me. Last weekend, while farmers’ market hopping with my friend Cathy Barrow (aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow on Twitter), I came across those very same delicate, almost spidery flowers, gently packed in a container and set out on a table at the Lafayette-Broad Branch Farmers’ Market. The farmer, Haroun Hallack, of Red Bud Farm in West Virginia, identified them as arugula flowers and let me sample a few. My first thought was “Idiot! Why did you leave those on your lunch plate last week?!”
I made amends to my short-shrifted self by buying a container (at $5 the flowers were not cheap, but there were a lot of them). I added them to our dinner salad, and sprinkled a handful on a French-style potato salad that we brought to friends the next day. There are lots of other ways you could use arugula flowers in cooking–float a few on top of a cold spring or summer soup, fold them into a frittata, or even toss a few on top of a beautifully grilled steak. For all their delicacy, they pack quite a flavorful punch.
Don’t try to save them, though. I found out—again the hard way—that these lovely little flowers, once picked, are extremely perishable–even more so than squash blossoms. By Monday, the remaining few left in the container and stored in my fridge, had turned yellow and wilted. I am not the swiftest person, but I think I finally got it. Who knew that such a small flower could hold such a big life lesson?
Buon Appetito, and remember to enjoy everything that graces your plate.