Agretti refers to the edible green parts of the native Mediterranean annual known in English as salsola soda or saltwort. Looking a bit like chives and tasting a whole lot like spinach when cooked, agretti are harvested in funny-looking bunches with some of their roots intact, giving rise to the quaintest of their many epithets, friar’s beard (barba di frate in Italian). Raw, they taste like fresh grass, so if you like a grassy-tasting salad, just rinse and roughly chop them up, and toss them with good oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. They also do well as a garnish, snipped and sprinkled in the way you would chives. Cooked agretti are as versatile as spinach or any other leafy-ish green. Some common ways to prepare them are briefly boiled then added to a pasta dish, or in a frittata or omelet. Here’s one way to make them with spaghetti:
1 bunch of agretti
350 grams (about 11 ounces) spaghetti
100 grams (1/2 cup circa) smoked pancetta, sliced or diced
75 grams (3/4 cup) grated aged parmesan cheese or ricotta salata
salt & pepper
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt. Chop the roots off the agretti and boil the greens for 3-4 minutes. Strain and set aside. Keep the water going for the pasta. Meanwhile heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in large pan and cook the pancetta until just turning crisp. Add the cooked agretti, salt and pepper to taste, combine, and keep warm in the pan. Cook the spaghetti al dente and when ready scoop out (do not use a colander) and transfer to the pan. Sprinkle in all the cheese and blend well.