Having travelled in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, I thought I had seen most vegetables. Wrong! The first time, I went to our local market, I saw bunches of what looked like a cross between dill and fine grass, called Agretti. I had never seen this vegetable before so of course I had to buy some.
Back home, I went to consult my oracle (no not Fidz, Google!). Lo and behold, it has a variety of names, Barba di Frate (Monk`s Beard), saltwort, opposite leaf Russian thistle, or roscano. The botanical name is Salsola soda and it’s salt-tolerant so it can be found growing on the edge of salt marshes. The plant was historically very important as it was used to produce soda ash which is necessary for making glass and soap. It`s apparently rich in iron, calcium and vitamin A so very good for you, hurrah!
So now that I`ve told you everything you never wanted to know about Agretti, you`re probably wondering, as I did, what one does with it. Steam it? Sauté it? Put it in salad? I found an Italian recipe online which I was a bit worried about following, given my poor Italian, but it turned out to be delicious so my mistakes if I made any can’t have been too serious! It tasted wonderful, slightly acidic, slightly salty and slightly bitter. I loved it and I’m definitely going to make it again. Apparently, it’s a spring vegetable so I`d better get to it before it`s no longer available. I also found out that it grows in California so hope my friends in CA can find some.
1 generous tabspn olive oil
5 black olives, pits removed and very finely chopped
1 bunch Agretti cleaned i.e. tough stems removed
Blanch the agretti in boiling water for 2 – 5 mins with very little, or no salt added as Agretti can be slightly salty itself.
Gently heat the oil in a pan, add the anchovies and stir until broken up. Add olives and mix well. Add Agretti and toss well. Serve warm. I`ve heard that it`s also good in salads either cooked or uncooked.