Rocket, also known as “roquette”, “arugala”, “rucola”, “roka”, “Italian cress”, has a rich, peppery taste, and is exceptionally strongly flavoured for a leafy green. Toss young leaves into a salad use in dips or as a crisp cress-like sandwich filling. Older leaves have a strong bitter taste.
Growing: Rocket likes loose rich, composted, well-drained soil. It needs a good watering in dry weather, although the roots must not be waterlogged. It is an annual plant that can bolt to seed if exposed to high temperature and extremes of moisture. Try growing it in a container near the kitchen door. Cut the stems off when harvesting and a new crop of leaves growing back in a few weeks. As the flower buds appear pinch them out to prolong cropping. Rocket leaves can be gathered in succession as soon as they are large enough, the flowers as soon as they appear, and the seed pods while young and juicy. You can also allow the plant to go to seed and collect the dry seed for culinary purposes.
Storage: To store rocket, wash, drain and dry it, then place in an open plastic bag. This will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator. It is also possible to freeze it either as whole or chop leaves and stored in a plastic freezer bag for use in cooked dishes.
General Use: Rocket bears cream-white four-petalled flowers followed by fat crisp seed pods. The leaves, flowers and sprouted seeds can be eaten. The flowers and leaves taste differently. Rocket is best added towards the end of cooking to retain its flavour and colour.
The dark green leaves are prized as salad ingredients because of their pungent odour/flavour. Chopped rocket leaves are a good garnish for many Mediterranean foods, but care must be taken that the rocket flavour does not dominate. Rocket flowers are delicious in stir fries and soups, added at the last minute. Young and tender seed pods can be pounded with spices and salt for an unusual flavouring for grilled steak or fish. Add rocket flowers and flower buds to cottage cheese, or use them as garnish on vegetables. Rocket seed can be used as a substitute for mustard, or even sprouted for salads.
If cooked (boiled or steamed), rocket quickly loses its pungency, but gains a characteristic, rather subtle flavour that goes well with strong tasting foods such as Italian pasta or risotto dishes. However you will need a lot of rocket to give a noticeable flavour and keep the cooking period as short as possible.