I beg to differ. Maybe there is one vegetable that makes us laugh – arugula.

“An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh”. -- Will Rogers

I beg to differ. Maybe there is one vegetable that makes us laugh – arugula.

Yes, the word arugula made me chuckle out loud the first time I encountered this funny sounding name for a vegetable.

Actually, I didn’t even know it was a vegetable until I heard it mentioned in a 1990 movie; you remember it, “My Blue Heaven” starring Steve Martin. Its arugula scene became an oft-quoted classic comedy bit, and one that still makes me laugh.

It goes something like this:

Steve Martin portrayed Vincent (Vinnie) Antonelli, a mafia guy, relocated (forced to move against his will) from New York to the west coast through the federal witness protection program.

Clearly out of his element in the suburbs of San Diego, Vinnie tried grocery shopping in a friendly, quiet small-town market. When the manager asked him if he had a pleasant shopping experience, Vinnie was taken aback. He thought the manager caught him changing prices on meat (which he did), but no, the manager only wanted to point out the store’s suggestion box.

“If there’s anything you want we don’t have, let us know,” the manager offered.

Vinnie, relieved, confidently demanded, “Arugula! I haven’t had arugula in six weeks!”

“What’s that?” asked the manager.

“It’s a veg-e-ta-ble,” yelled Vinnie, emphasizing each syllable.

Yes, arugula is a funny veg-e-ta-ble, and recently, I learned to like it.

Granted, I realize that arugula was considered, for a time, to be a favorite aromatic salad green used only in upscale restaurants. It had a certain snob appeal. Increasingly, however, arugula is mainstream. One can easily find it today in spring mix salad packages at the grocery store or all by itself. Plain arugula, just arugula, as though everyone uses it in great quantities!

Who knew arugula (the veg-e-ta-ble that makes you laugh) would become this popular. There was a time when I wondered who would be silly enough to buy it. No more.

Lots of folks are buying these greens, and there is even a popular cookbook titled “The United States of Arugula” that touts its wonders. Author David Kamp writes how foods such as arugula were once used only by gourmets and now are pervasive in our society,

In fact, I buy arugula all the time now savoring and delighting in these hot, peppery, radish-like greens in salads and in Italian dishes. Additionally, a couple of weeks ago I served it in a new way to friends, which is not a particularly good idea to attempt unless they are really good friends.

I tried to replicate an interesting menu – Arugula mixed with fresh slightly-cooked green beans as a side dish, a cold veg-e-ta-ble salad. It complemented, quite nicely, if I do say so myself, the entrée of breaded pork chops smothered in pasta sauce. Yummy! I think our friends actually liked it.

I guess I could call myself an authority on arugula now because I try it on pizza, in all kinds of salads, added to other vegetables and in dips. It is a veritable arugula smorgasbord around our house.

My arugula obsession may not last long, however, because a reader suggested recently that I write a column about onions since that veg-e-ta-ble has lots of funny story possibilities. Good point. So as a result, I may soon be on an onion kick, except of course for the fact that onions make us cry and I truly prefer a laughing veg-e-ta-ble to a crying one.

Disclaimer: there is one more thing you should know about arugula. It is also known as the rocket, the seeds of which were used in aphrodiasiac concoctions dating to the first century AD.

Like I said, arugula (a.k.a. the rocket) can make you laugh among other things!

(And by the way, if you want my recipe for arugula green bean salad, drop me an email if you are daring enough to try it.)