Agretti. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised, but they’re worth seeking out. They’re nearly impossible to find in the U.S., and even in Italy, lots of people have no idea what they are. The only place I’ve ever seen the vegetable for sale was in open air markets in Rome, and I’ve been hunting for the seeds ever since I first spotted them and ate them years ago. My relatives in Northern Italy were never able to locate the seeds either, but fortunately, Seeds From Italy was. I ordered a box of them earlier this year, sowing the seeds before I left on my latest trip to Italy nearly six weeks ago. What a welcome sight to see this sprouting up from the ground upon returning home:
Agretti (plural of agretto – but who eats only one agretto I ask you?) are also known as roscano, salt wort, or barba di frate, which translates to the friar’s beard. You can see why in this photo below — they look kind of like hairy chives with side growth. The flavor doesn’t taste like chives though – to me it tastes like swiss chard, one of my favorite veggies. The botanical name is salsola soda and it also grows in marshes. In the past, the ashes of agretti were an important source of soda ash for glassmaking and soap making.
The sowing and growing season is narrow. Indeed the package says to plant within two months because the seeds have a short viability. I’ll be sowing more in the next day or two, to hopefully get a second crop before summer’s end. How to eat them? They need cooking, even though they look tender. Trim the hard ends, then boil them in water to tenderize. Drain and sauté
them in a pan with some olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepperoncino. They make a great side dish all by themselves, but imagine how good they’d be as a bed for a filet of fish — or tossed with some pasta. You heard it here first folks – agretti will be the next big thing. Don’t miss out on what is bound to be on the menus of trendy Italian restaurants in the near future. But don’t do it for that reason – grow them because they taste good. An added benefit is that they provide a good source of vitamin A, iron and calcium.
Look what else I found in my garden upon my return home. Yes, that’s a baby artichoke in the making. It’s the first year I’ve ever grown them and right now, only one of my six plants has a little sprout. Hopefully the others will catch up to this one and I’ll post a recipe for my home-grown artichokes once I harvest them (I’m optimistic).
Boil the agretti in water for about five minutes. Drain. Add the olive oil to a pan and sauté the garlic. Add the drained agretti, the red pepper flakes and season with salt. Place in a serving dish and squeeze lemon over the agretti before serving.