Read The Laughing Chef's bio and previous columns


June 25, 2008

Make Pasta Take Off With Rocket


The word arugula conjures up many things. To some, it is known as rocket. To others, it might evoke thoughts of an old-timey car horn. To most, it prompts only thoughts of question marks, probing the deep recesses of the brain in the vain attempt to figure out what it is.


Those who know rocket know that it does not like to be classified. It is leafy and suitable for salads and sandwiches. Yet, it is also strongly flavored, which makes it something that can stand on its own in flavoring pasta.


It can do so either in a standalone, oil-based sauce; or as a replacement for basil in pesto.


Pesto, as most people are aware, was named after a dinner party host misspoke himself. A hungry houseguest queried about dinner, and the host, salivating in anticipation, mixed the basil sauce into the noodles, turned around, and failed to add the “r” to “Presto!” To cover his error, he pretended that it was intentional, and the rest is gustatory history.


The same is true when co-opting that original recipe, which relied on basil leaves. We are lucky that both rocket and basil are colored green, or else the substitution might not be possible.


Set aside two cups of raw rocket leaves, and instead take up a half cup of pine nuts. Spread these out on a cookie sheet and roast for five minutes at 325 degrees. While you are at it, also roast a head of garlic . . . guess what two ingredients of rocket pesto are.


A choice.


You may either use a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Be advised of the language land mines in going low-tech. We are already at the point of calling this sauce pesto thanks to a misspoken word, and the addition of a similar-sounding one to an already charged situation could have dire results. For our purposes, we will avoid that minefield and go high-tech.


The next step reminds us of how the error was made in the first place. Chop the rocket, garlic and nuts until smooth, all the while drizzling in the olive oil to lubricate the process. Remove from one bowl to another, and stir in the cheese.


Presto . . . pesto! The roots of linguistic error become clear.


The low-tech version of this is just as simple. You mash the nuts and garlic with the oil, and chop the rocket leaves separately before adding. It is important to tear the leaves so the flavorful juices and oils flow out, and the pestle is a tool for grinding, not ripping and tearing. Stir in the cheese as a last step, as smashed cheese does not blend easily. Take care to steer away from linguistic entanglements.


Stir it into fresh pasta, with the strong flavor of the rocket complementing the earthiness and nuttiness of the other ingredients.


You have created enough for four dishes, but if there are not four dining at your table, here is another suggestion – freeze it in an ice cube tray.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column #TLC090. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause