Ruchetta or rucola is one of those names that are used to indicate more than one thing, which is a recipe for confusion. First there is rucola selvatica, Diplotaxis tenuifolia. Before moving from Italy to The United States of Arugula, I only knew ruchetta as an ingredient of my salad days.
- Memory #1: both my mother and my aunt Lucia would gather ruchetta in uncultivated patches of land around where they lived, then add a few leaves to a salad of mixed greens to spice it up: and spicy it was!
- Memory #2: at any of the colorful, noisy and lively neighborhood markets in Rome, sellers would offer mixed salad greens with or without ruchetta, which in the Roman dialect is pronounced rughetta. I was told that it was because the pungent flavor of the herb was not to everybody's liking.
When I moved to California, I saw that restaurants served arugula salad and that puzzled me, because I thought that a salad made just with ruchetta would have too strong a flavor. However, sui gusti non si discute, there's no accounting for taste, so I never said anything. It wasn't until much later, basically until now, that I discovered that there is another rucola, Eruca sativa, which has wider leaves, a milder flavor and is cultivated for use in salads. It is from Eruca that the word rucola derives and this is the arugula much beloved in this country and available also in Italy. Arugula is also known as rocket salad. In the rocket department, rucola selvatica is featured as wild rocket.
I am never surprised when scientists discover that plants that humans have been eating for centuries are full of nutrients. Arugula contains vitamin C and bioactive phytochemicals, packaged in a flavor that can be mild or strong, according to our personal taste. Doesn't this sound like a perfect advertisement for a salad green?