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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).

Printable recipe here
one bunch of agretti
two cloves of garlic minced
1/4 cup olive oil
red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon

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.

This Post Has 18 Comments
  1. Wow! I haven't had agretti since the days when I lived in Rome. They were very special. Kudos for going to such lengths to obtain them over here. Your garden sounds like it must be a real marvel to behold!

  2. Ah…I had intending e mailing you after the last post because YES I know Agretti. I visit my daughter in northern Italy and buy it in the market. I have also grown it from seed in Canada.
    I steam it then toss it in butter. I love it.

  3. You are my adult education. Looks like a hairy chive and tastes like chard? Fun! I will pay more attention to my Seeds from Italy this winter. (I need more to pay attention to in winter.) Jealous of baby artichoke. I keep trying – but no dice.

  4. Well I've learned something new from you again, never heard of agretti, but I know I would love it. I too am very jealous of your baby artichoke, we tried last year, we had high hopes but got shot down!

  5. I never heard of agretti, but if they taste like Swiss chard I know I'd like them!

    I know the east coast has had a very rainy spring and summer — it seems to agree with your garden. Linda!

  6. Agretti is delicious! As you say it only has a short season, we're able to find it here in Umbria in late March for about 6 weeks or so. After washing it, I leave it to soak in cold clean water, then boil for three minutes, drain and dress with olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
    Will try your method of sautéing next time 🙂

    Love the blog


  7. I love to learn about produce I have never heard of. I will have to ask several of my market vendor friends if they have ever seen it here in the Northwest. What fun to have artichokes in your own yard!

  8. Linda, I came to this post through Adri´s lovely link – how nice that upon your return from your wonderful trip to Italy you found the Agretti growing so nicely in your garden – what an interesting post, I love learning new when I visit blogs and this is certainly a fun post! Thanks for sharing!

  9. So interesting. Like the idea to use them for a bed for fish. I will keep an eye out to see if famous chef will be serving them…

  10. I was so excited when I saw that your artichoke plant had a baby artichoke on it! I live in NJ, and have four plants in my garden. This is my first time ever trying these in my garden. My plants look healthy, but no sign of artichokes yet.

  11. Oh my gosh Linda – these look like buchu, Korean chives that I just posted. I wonder if they are the same? I must research.

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