Rucola, the queen salad of the Piana del Sele


Rucola, the queen salad of the Piana del Sele

Rocket, an annual herbaceous plant among the main leaves grown in the Piana del Sele and from Altamura OP, has conquered men since ancient times with its intense and spicy taste. Queen of summer salads, it is not only versatile in the kitchen, but is also good for health, thanks to its nutritional and beneficial properties. Find out in the article all the curiosities about rocket, its benefits and our tips for using it in the kitchen.

Rocket: curiosities, properties and benefits for the body

Arugula or rocket is a plant with a pungent taste that is part of the Brassicaceae family, like cabbage and broccoli. Cultivated and appreciated throughout the Mediterranean since ancient times, this herbaceous plant is the ideal choice for the body, being low in calories and rich in nutritional and therapeutic properties.

It is important, first of all, to make a distinction between the cultivated rocket, Eruca vesicaria, and the wild rocket, Diplotaxi tenuifolia. Although they belong to the same family, and are often confused, they are actually two different species. The main difference is in the flavor and color of the leaves and flowers. The cultivated rocket, with white flowers and purple reflections, has softer and more intense green leaves. Wild rocket, on the other hand, has deep yellow flowers, harder, longer and more jagged leaves and a much stronger taste.

The history of rocket: aphrodisiac and therapeutic plant

The history of rocket has its roots in antiquity. Already in Roman times it was cultivated and appreciated for flavoring food and for its beneficial properties for the stomach and diuresis. Defined by Ovid herba salax (luxurious herb), rocket was revered for its aphrodisiac properties, a reputation that distinguished it throughout the Middle Ages. Precisely in this era of obscurantism, rocket was banned from convent gardens. Grown in Italy, Northern Europe, North America and even India, the taste and beneficial properties of rocket have allowed it to experience a new success in more recent times. In fact, the rocket of the Piana del Sele has recently also received the prestigious recognition of the Protected Geographical Indication, testifying to the uniqueness of this salad.

How rocket is grown today

The rocket is characterized by green leaves, with serrated edges and an oblong shape. The plant can grow up to 50 centimeters in height and its unmistakable spicy flavor mainly depends on the type of soil it is grown in and the growing season. The rocket, in fact, adapts well to different soils, but the more arid these are and the later the harvest will be, the more intense and pungent the flavor of the leaves will be. Stagnant water, droughts and frosts are the main enemies of this vegetable.

The sowing of the rocket takes place from March to September, but thanks to good cultivation techniques, such as those adopted by Altamura OP, the period is now extended to the whole year, while the harvest of the leaves usually starts after a month from sowing, when these are now well developed.

Nutritional properties and calories with rocket

The properties of rocket, low in fat and rich in fiber, place it in that category of foods defined as superfoods: tasty and very important foods in the diet, containing seventeen nutrients essential for health. Rocket is considered, in fact, one of the richest vegetables in fiber, calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin C and K. The calorie intake of rocket is minimal and this makes it ideal for low-calorie diets as well. Composed of 90% water, 2.5% protein and 3.5% carbohydrates, the calories per 100 grams of rocket are only 25, the sugar 4 grams and the fats 0.5 grams.

Properties of rocket: the numerous benefits of tasty leaves

Like many other plants belonging to the Brassicaceae, the beneficial properties of rocket are numerous and make it not only tasty but also an excellent food for health. Promoting diuresis and the production of gastric juices, it has important purifying and detoxifying properties, also helping digestion. From anti-secretory to anti-ulcer activity, from anti-inflammatory to cytoprotective properties, the consumption of rocket is beneficial for our body for many reasons.

Thanks to the considerable amount of vitamin C, rocket helps strengthen the immune system, also containing numerous essential elements that promote the proper functioning of cellular processes that are important to protect the body. It is possible, for example, to emphasize the antioxidant properties of this plant, thanks to the high content of beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. The presence of vitamin K, folic acid and calcium make it an excellent remineralizer, useful for replenishing the salts lost with sweating. Vitamin K and the presence of kaempferol, quercetin and isoramnetin are also thought to contribute to the blood clotting process. Rocket also contains an important amount of 4-methylthiobutyl isothiocyanate or eurocyan: with a structure similar to the sulforaphane present in broccoli, has been placed at the center of numerous studies to support its remarkable properties, such as its important anticancer effects.

Rocket in the kitchen: storage, tips for use and recipes

Thanks to its properties and the benefits of rocket, this is a perfect element to include in the diet. Its taste and versatility, then, make it irresistible in the kitchen. Extremely delicate, its conservation is not easy: it is important to wash it but not leave it in water for too long, and keep it in the fridge, consuming it within a couple of days. Because of its particular, intense and pungent flavor, rocket is consumed in small quantities and mainly combined with other foods such as meat, fish or dairy products. Using a few leaves will allow you to give even more flavor to mixed salads, pizzas, sandwiches or fresh rolls. The rocket, however, is also perfect for making a variant of Genoese pesto by chopping the leaves and combining them with pine nuts or walnuts to flavor pasta or make tasty croutons. Below, we suggest two delicious recipes to make with your rocket.

Pasta with rocket pesto: a dish with an overwhelming flavor

To make this recipe, cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water. Meanwhile, in a blender, chop 100 grams of pine nuts or walnuts, the clean garlic and the well washed rocket, with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer the pesto obtained to a non-stick pan. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and mix it with the rocket pesto, adding a tablespoon of cooking water. In a short time and with a few simple steps, you will have obtained an irresistible dish ready to taste. For an even tastier variant of pasta with rocket pesto, you can also add tuna at the end of cooking to enrich your recipe.