Cool weather makes me more appreciative of chunky soups. And adding hearty greens like kale, collards and even turnip greens to soup makes me feel like I'm doing my body a favor. You put all these pampered vegetables from local farms into one pot and how can it not be good for you?
I wasn't sure what my soup of the week would be, but I knew the market would provide inspiration, and when I saw the bundles of arugula, I knew it was time to make a soup featuring this distinctive green.
Rain or shine, arugula shows up at markets almost all year in the Northwest. If you count your lucky stars by the amount of arugula we have at markets, you'll see there really is a "dark" side to too much warmth and sun. Greens wilt with too much heat. Just taste California arugula compared to Northwest arugula and you'll notice a big flavor difference. Cold enhances flavors. Hearty and resilient--I like to call arugula the optimistic green because it loves cool damp weather. No seasonal affective disorder for this baby. It's so hearty, I've even seen this green in February at the markets.
Lately, I've been dreaming about arugula's peppery, slightly bitter, assertive flavor that spikes salads, wakes up sleepy sandwiches, and perks up pasta. I puzzled a bit about using it in a soup, and when I asked a farmer what he thought, he said he'd only heard of people adding it to salads and maybe lightly sauteing it. Was it a gamble? Would it get tough? Lose it's flavor?
I had read how other people used arugula in soup recipes, but I wanted to make it a star. I didn't want to go with the obvious and puree it with cream, or the vegan equivalent. What's the fun of doing something expected?
I confess, I really just like to play with food. I didn't grow up an Italian grandmother, and I didn't go to culinary school, where I imagine budding chefs learn about every possible vegetable, so I thought back to the time when arugula first came into my life.
The first time I tasted the spiky green was from Lombrici's Organic Farm at Pike Place Market in the early 1990s before the U-District Market opened. Katherine Lewis and Steve Lospalluto of Lombrici's in the Puyallup Valley grew the most amazing organic vegetables and every Wednesday I'd drive from Edmonds to Pike Place Market. On "Organic Wednesdays," and I drove there with the faith that Katherine would be there selling her organic produce. She often gave me tips about how to cook and prepare things like salsify, celeriac and probably arugula.
I don't remember when they moved but, the U-District Market opened in 1992, and now Katherine and Steve's farm in Skagit Valley is called Dunbar Gardens. I'm not certain whether they sell produce to the public anymore, but Katherine is well-known for her amazing woven baskets. Check out her baskets here.
Yes, I'm certain it was Katherine who first introduced me to this amazing green.
In case you don't know, arugula is a member of the brassica family whose relatives include:
If you love greens with an attitude like the spicy mustard greens that grow in the winter, you'll love arugula. It transforms salads and adds pizazzz to pasta and pizza.
Sometimes you have to look for it at the market because lots of other greens compete for attention at the market. Kale, collards, spinach, these are all bigger leaves and usually more prominently displayed. Arugula bunches are a bit smaller, and as greens go, they are a tad more expensive than kale. If you're on a food budget, it's a cool splurge because the flavor makes it worthwhile, but remember you only really need one bunch for this soup.
Last last summer I grew arugula in containers. We had it in salads all summer. I probably should have planted more for fall, but I'm a sissy gardener and once it starts raining and gets cold, I retreat to my books and writing inside.
Thank goodness farmers are still harvesting. The bunches were small, so I grabbed two, but at $3.50 a bunch, one is enough for this soup. My Assistant isn't so sure about the greens. I think he was hoping there was something more on the plate.
If you buy two bunches, use one for a salad.
I searched my books and favorite websites for soup ingredient ideas. I found a creamy version with cream. Where's the imagination there? I found another with white beans and that had ocurred to me, but I was feeling like pasta since I found the secret to adding it to soup when I made Minestrone. You can add other vegetables like cauliflower and potatoes if you want. Soup is forgiving, you can alter just about any recipe.
A Few Notes
If you buy local celery, remember that it may wilt more easily than store varieties. Plan on using most of it for the soup. As for the carrots--I can't believe the size of the carrots from Nash's Organic Produce. The sweetness of these carrots is a testament that you can't judge a carrot by it's cover.
I used a packaged ravioli, cooked it al dente ahead of time and cooled it with cold water. The soup warmed it again. You can use another kind of pasta and make your own or substitute for the ravioli, something else that you love like white beans or sweet potatoes. You can also top it with bread crumbs--just crumble some croutons--if you pass on the cheese.
As for where I finally found a recipe--when I thumbed through my first book I found a recipe called Torteillini Florentine Soup. I revised it here, this time featuring arugula. It's funny the useful things you sometimes find in your own backyard.
Mushroom and Arugula Soup with Ravioli
1 1/2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms1 to 2 tablespoon canola or extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion or 1 large leek, copped or sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's peppers (or use 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
3 to 4 cups stock or water
1 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 large carrots, sliced
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 sprig of thyme
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
Sea salt to taste
1 washed bunch of arugula, roughly chopped, about 4 cups
1 to 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
Cooked ravioli for four
Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Heat a heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add cremini mushrooms. Stir and cook in dry pan until onions lose their moisture. Add oil, onions, celery, garlic and peppers. Stir and cook until celery softens and onions and garlic are lightly browned.
2. Pour in stock or water and tomatoes. Add carrots, basil and thyme. Simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until carrots are soft. Add honey and salt to taste. Stir in greens and cook until wilted.
3. Stir in balsamic vinegar to taste. Divide ravioli into four bowls. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.