Does anyone know why Americans call rocket "arugula"?
And does anyone know why flea beetles eat rocket? You'd think it was too strong and peppery for their tiny, delicate digestive systems. Apparently you can actually see them jumping off the leaves when you disturb them, says the RHS's flea beetle advice page. All I know is that the little buggers can reduce a rocket leaf to lace.
We're on our second sowing of annual rocket now. They left the first sowing along, but it flowered so quickly that I didn't get a chance to cut much of it. This lot, though, has already had to be dusted with derris. I don't really understand why, but the RHS says that "Rotenone/derris-based insecticides are being withdrawn from sale in September 2008 (date to be confirmed). Gardeners can use up rotenone/derris-based products for 12 months after the final selling date." Rotenone is listed as kosher on organic gardening websites (such as attra.ncat.org) so it's doubly puzzling.
Rocket, Eruca sativa, has, I'm pretty sure, been eaten in Britain since the 16th century, as a salad leaf. Perhaps it's another of those gifts we got from the Romans, the chief one being the stinging nettle. It gets its "pungent, almost meaty" kick, says Harold McGee, "from various aldehydes, including almond-essence benzaldehyde," which I'd never have guessed.
Normally I dress rocket salad with salt, pepper, a touch of garlic and olive oil without any vinegar - though sometimes I give in and squeeze on some lemon juice; but the pepperiness works without added acid. In the last couple of years I've discovered that rocket is also terrific cooked, or added as a herb to cooked dishes. For example, it's delicious chopped and incorporated into a risotto, on its own or with parsley, tarragon or chervil; and it adds an unexpected note to soups and stews. For pasta, and even pizza it's interesting scattered on raw, while the pasta or pizza is still piping hot.
But why, oh why, does the whole of America ignore its ancient English name, and use the silly-sounding name "arugula"? Wikipedia has a stab at answering:
Vernacular names include Garden Rocket, Rocket, Eruca, Rocketsalad, Arugula (American English), Rucola (Italian), Rugola (Italian), Rauke (German), Roquette (French), Rokka (Greek), Ruca (Catalan), Beharki (Basque), Oruga (Spanish), Rúcula (Portuguese), Ruchetta (Italian) and Rughetta (Italian). The term arugula (variations of Italian dialects around arigola) is used by the Italian diaspora in Australia and North America and from there picked up as a loan word to a varying degree in American and Australian English, particularly in culinary usage. The names ultimately all derive from the Latin word eruca.
It annoys me. What about you? And do you have ways of using rocket I haven't thought of? Always grateful for new ideas.