Produce of the Week - Agretti
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Agretti is now, briefly, available at the Santa Barbara and Montecito Farmers' Markets. Agretti is also regionally known as roscano or barba di frate and, like "arugula" is a name that can be used of other similar tasting and looking, but unrelated, vegetables, samphire, for example. Agretti is a good source of vitamin A (or it's precursors) and of iron and calcium.
Like Samphire (Crithmum maritimum), Agretti (Salsola soda) is a halophyte, tolerant of salty soils, and will happily grow at the edge of salty marshes. It tends to be a bit salty tasting, even when grown in normally irrigated soils, and can be a bit tart, like purslane or some kinds of spinach. This sourness complements a grassy freshness and a texture that is something like young asparagus, at once crisp and succulent.
Very tender Agretti can be used raw as a component of tossed salads; simply rinse and dry, then break or cut up the tender parts and add to the salad. More usually, the edible stalks are separated from the root, rinsed and blanched for up to ten minutes, then drained, drizzled with oil and lemon juice, and served as a green or warm salad. Locally, raw Agretti takes the place of the closely related Okahijiki (Salsola komarovi) in sushi, where the tartness, saltiness and texture find a good home.
Like asparagus, Agretti can also be cooked with. It turns up repeatedly in dressings for pasta - chopped and sauteed with ham or strips of chicken, over penne, or whole, boiled together with spaghetti, drained, and dressed with oil and lots of grated cheese. We also have a recipe which uses it as the vegetable in a frittata.
The flavor, color and stringy shape also make it suitable for serving beds - for fish, for example. Here it's prepared the same way as the traditional salad. I think this would be a nice way to serve something like devilled eggs. Finally, there's soup. It's hard to think of something that wouldn't go in a soup, but Agretti, blanched al dente and chopped into 3/4" pieces would be a particularly nice addition to a cream of potato soup, or even to a clear onion soup.
Unfortunately, only a couple of our linked recipes are in English. Still, it's worth looking at the lists of ingredients and the photos. The cooking instructions themselves are simple and outlined in the paragraphs above.
Look for Agretti at the Coleman Farms stand, Friday and Saturday markets (Wednesday and Saturday in Santa Monica).