Pasta with Wild Arugula and Tomatoes


The other day, my 8-year old son came running to me shouting with excitement with his little sister piping his enthusiasm behind him, all sweaty and smelling of the outside sweltering world. He seemed like he had something valuable cupped in one of his fists. He handed me a small piece of green, crumpled thing and asked me to smell it. I usually cringe at the thought of being asked to smell something unidentifiable in the hands of my kids so I was reluctant to follow his request. I was able to calm them down enough to stare at what he was holding out to me and ask him what it was. It did look like a crumpled leaf and it smelled very familiar.

He proudly declared to me that it was rucola selvatica (wild arugula / rocket) and where he found it.
I made sure that it was arugula by smelling it again just to be sure we don't eat anything non-edible (even if the aroma was overpowering in the room). Commercial arugula and the wild ones are the same, only the latter is very strong in flavor and the leaves are thicker. I cannot eat it alone in a salad like what I do with the ones that I buy from the shops that are milder. I usually get a small portion from the garden and mix it with the commercial arugula or other ingredients to downplay its concentrated taste.

The past summers, I had been left disappointed when I forage for them in our garden because they were nowhere in sight
. I thought that they were gone for good. Since my son spends his summer days in the garden, I always remind him to look out for any and to remember the scent of the arugula.
He just came back from a week-long Boy Scout camping where he learned how to forage for plants too from a plant expert. That's one positive outcome from his Scout adventure!

The following day, I gathered a couple of wild arugula plants to cook for dinner. I prepared my remaining datterini tomatoes. I am in the process of emptying my fridge and cupboards from perishable food because my family and I are leaving soon for our summer holiday. Datterini tomatoes are native to Italy and they are the sweetest tomatoes that I have ever tasted in my life. They are smaller than cherry tomatoes and have an oval shape. They can be similar to the grape tomatoes.

I kept it simple by tossing the tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, anchovies and garlic. Those three are inseparable when I sautè tomatoes and I want to make the flavors stronger. In the end, I added the arugula and the cooked pasta. After a taste test, I thought (my husband too) it needed something more to improve the taste. It was already good but it needed strength. I used some Pecorino to do that job and it certainly excelled in putting the right flavors together. Try not to substitute it with Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) because it is much milder in flavor. The pasta goes well with Pecorino or any similar-tasting cheese that you can find. There's also a big difference with and without the Pecorino so I would suggest not to skip it.

Dinner had been fantastic, according my son (he was the forager of our dinner!) and my husband made sure I wrote down exactly what I put in the pasta because it was something to be cooked again. I loved it too! 

Pasta with Wild Arugula and Tomatoes 
Serves 2
  • 200 grams pasta
  • 1-1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups arugula, washed & trimmed
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 salted anchovy fillets preserved in oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese (plus more if desired)
  1. Over high heat, bring a pot of water to a boil for cooking the pasta. When it boils, add some salt then cook the pasta. Follow the number of minutes indicated in the package. When the pasta is cooked, drain. Set aside a cup of the water if needed for cooking the sauce.
  2. Meanwhile, while waiting for the water to boil, prepare the sauce. Over medium heat, in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil, sautè the garlic and the anchovies.
  3. When the anchovies have melted with the oil, discard the garlic. 
  4. Add the tomatoes and toss with the oil. Cook for about 10 minutes when the juice of the tomatoes are seeping out and the sauce is thickening slightly.
  5. After about 10 minutes, add the arugula. Toss for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce. If you see that the sauce is too dry, add a little amount of water that you used for cooking the pasta.
  7. Add the Pecorino. Toss then turn off the fire.
  8. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil on the serving plate and sprinkle more Pecorino if desired.