Farmers Market Finds: Agretti

not so native vegetation

I was tempted to title this post “Spaghetti Western” because of the strange connection that agretti has to the American west.  You see agretti could be considered an edible tumbleweed.  It’s more famous relative can been seen in its meandering migration across the western plains.  Agretti’s botanical name is Salsola soda, and this familial naming evidence shows its close kinship with that tumbling tumbleweed, Salsola tragus.

Tumbleweed, or Salsola tragus is an introduced species that first popped up in South Dakota in the late 1870s.   Since tumbleweeds are common over the steppes of Russia , it’s believed that Ukrainian pioneers were the most likely source.  Once rooted in the new world, the exotic tumbleweeds took care of spreading themselves, and they were so good at it that they are now classified as a noxious weed by the US Department of Agriculture.  The family name Salsola comes from the Latin “salsus”, meaning salt, because this family easily tolerates salty soil. The tumbleweed’s ability to thrive in tough conditions, helped the plant spread aggressively across the American West.  The name, agretti, that the Italians bestowed on Salsola soda, its edible relative means “little sour one” – and salty + sour is indeed applicable in describing the taste.

They Blamed the Wrong Vegetable

Italian agretti has been falsely accused of being marsh grass or glasswort, both entirely different plant species.

Traveling Under Different Aliases

Italian agretti is also known as roscana or roscano and barba di frate in Italy and saltwort.

Incriminating Features

Agretti - tumbling onto my plate

Rather rare, Italian agretti is an inherently salty green with a succulent texture and a nicely acidic.  It tastes a bit salty, even when grown in regular soil, and can taste tart, like purslane or some kinds of spinach. This sourness complements a grassy freshness accompanied by a texture that is reminiscent of young asparagus.

Known Hang Outs

Italian agretti, eaten either fresh or raw,  is a favorite ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and in Japanese sushi creations.  Raw agretti can substitute for the closely related Okahijiki (Salsola komarovi) in sushi, where the tartness, saltiness and texture find a good home.  Tossed it into a salad, and it feels instantly at home.  The flavor, color and stringy shape also make it suitable serving bed for fish, for example.  Agretti, blanched al dente and chopped into ¾” pieces is a nice addition to a cream of potato soup, a clear onion soup, or miso.

Put to Work

These recipes were adapted from some of the great ideas contributed by my fellow Mariquita Farm CSA members on using this wonderful vegetable.

Agretti Spaghetti

Serves four to six

Ingredients

1 pound spaghetti
2 c agretti, cleaned and with “bulbs” removed
2 link Italian Sausage
4 green garlics, minced
2 c ricotta cheese
olive oil
S + P

Directions

Boil agretti with spaghetti in water until the pasta is al dente.    While the pasta is cooking, brown Italian sausage in a pan with green garlic and about 4 T of olive oil.  Drain the pasta and return to cooking pot, mix all ingredients together and add pepper to taste.

Toasted Quinoa, Agretti, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella Salad

ride 'em cowboy

Serves six

Ingredients

1 ½ c uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
3 c water
1 c diced agretti
¾ c (3 oz) diced fresh mozzarella cheese
½ c chopped red onion
½ c chopped seedless cucumber
¼ c chopped fresh mint
2 T chopped fresh basil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
¼ c fresh lemon juice
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ T Dijon mustard
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp hot pepper sauce

Directions

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add quinoa to pan; cook 5 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Add water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 15 minutes or until tender. Fluff with a fork; cool. Place quinoa in a large bowl. Add agretti and next 6 ingredients (through tomatoes). Whisk together remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Add juice mixture to quinoa mixture; toss gently to coat.  Enjoy.

Agretti was a new vegetable to me, but I hope we become fast friends as it is certainly a fantastic addition to my table.  It has a relatively short growing season so I doubt we’ll be seeing each other enough to tire of the company.  Like the cowboy movies of old, I’ll never know when it will pack up and mosey on out of town.

Update me when site is updated

34 comments for “Farmers Market Finds: Agretti

  1. May 14, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    They kind of look like a type of seaweed in a way. Cool!!

  2. May 14, 2010 at 11:59 PM

    Very interesting post, thanks for sharing!
    Thanks for visiting my blog and for the kind comments :)

  3. May 15, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    Native to Italy – so unlikely to grow wild in MN – love the idea of a “salty” herb. But your recipe is grand and can play with additional herbs.

  4. May 15, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    I love the sound of the quinoa dish. Agretti is something I’ve never heard of, but it looks interesting. Now, that I am in the know, so to speak, I’m going to keep an eye out!

  5. May 15, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    Ha, I love the western references to discovery! I have seen that, and you are right, it is being sold under alias, like me AKA Chef :)

    I get the funniest looks when people ask me for my name, I am just used to using Chef E…deal with it cowboy and cowgirls!

  6. May 16, 2010 at 1:29 AM

    That is new for me 😀

    I still can’t imagine how it taste.

  7. admin
    May 16, 2010 at 12:46 PM

    Jenn – It reminded me a bit of seaweed too.

    Dimah – my pleasure!

    Claudia – Its truly different than anything else I tried.

    Lisa – I think they sell it at the Santa Monicia Farmers market or some of the big ones around LA. You should be able to find some.

    Chef E – He he! You tell ’em.

    Tigerfish – You’ll have to try it for yourself and I can only imagine the yummy dishes you would create.

  8. May 16, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Hmm you teased my curiosity spuds. Need to find an equivalent to this somewhere!

  9. May 16, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    Well, well, well, aren’t “we” the adventurous pioneer. I LOVE new discoveries and your attention to this post has wandering minds wondering:) Salty, tart, texture…sounds like an intriguing addition to a nice clean vegetable broth.

    Thanks for sharing and a huge thank you for all the GREAT info!!!

  10. May 16, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Have you found this at any Bay Area farmers markets? How fascinating! Am dying to try it now.

  11. May 16, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    This green vegetable is completely new to me! I’m fascinated with the idea of it tasting like a purslane but salty -like sea beans. I hope I run into some in the future.

  12. May 16, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    I’ve never heard of agretti. I’m curious to know where I can find them, too.

  13. admin
    May 16, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    Ruth – Hopefully you’ll find some agretti relatively easily as its an Italian green

    Louis – I try! Thanks for all the lovely compliments.

    Carolyn, Christine, Kitchen Em – I got this last batch through the Mariquita Mystery Box http://www.mariquita.com/Farmers%20Market/ThursdayNight.html

  14. Tan
    May 16, 2010 at 8:07 PM

    I often try Italian food style, but never heard about “Agretti” like grass in my country hahahah…If possible I would love to see the photo after cooked! 😉

  15. May 16, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    They DO look like weeds…what a cool veggie! I wouldn’t even look twice at them if I saw them sprouting in a garden…but now that I know what it is, I’d love to try them!

  16. May 17, 2010 at 6:35 AM

    Love Agretti, one of the few veggies Emily, my youngest will eat. They do take a while to clean (being individual strands) but well worth it. The spaghetti recipe looks very, very tempting.
    J

  17. May 17, 2010 at 6:40 AM

    I’ve been wondering how to describer agretti, one the only veggies Emily will eat without a fuss (even kids growing up in Italy can be picky eaters.
    I am going to have to try the spaghetti recipe.
    They can be a pain to clean – like wild asparagus you have to do each little spire.

  18. May 17, 2010 at 9:46 AM

    This is very interesting and new to me!!!I would love to try it!

  19. May 17, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    Curious about this and wondering if it grows in my part of the world. Do you happen to know it’s botanical (latin ) name?

  20. May 17, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    Hah! Love it!! If you’re into Spaghetti Westerns, you should check out my Spaghetti Western Concept Rap album, called “Showdown at the BK Corral.” It’s basically an epic Spaghetti Western over 9 tracks – very influenced by Leone an Morricone. I’d love to hear what you think of it! You can download it for free at sunsetparkriders.com

    Makes a great soundtrack for cooking!

  21. May 17, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    Trust me, if I find any agretti in this here jurisdiction, it won’t get away from me for long!

  22. May 17, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    I never heard of these before! I would love to try the spaghetti recipe. I bet it’s delicious.

  23. May 17, 2010 at 8:32 PM

    Agretti hey? OK I will look for it in Lebanon this summer and see if I find it there! these dishes look so good with a bit of green added for spice and flavor.

  24. May 18, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    I’ve never seen or heard of it but love to cook with it,someday. Sounds very interesting and tasty.

  25. May 19, 2010 at 5:14 AM

    A new one for me. Very interesting. I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to try it around here, but I’ll have my eye out. The name is catchy. :)

  26. admin
    May 19, 2010 at 8:19 PM

    Tan – sorry don’t have a photo of what I cooked up, but I’ll try to get one with the next batch.

    Sophia – You got to try them if you can. I made a veggie stir-fry to go over kabucha squash and it was so yummy!

    Joshua – The spaghetti recipe is very tasty, I’m surprised that its a favorite for Emily as it can be a bit on the sour side, but I love it.

    Erica – still not too common, so I hope you can try it.

    Spud -Here’s hoping you can wrangle up some agretti in your there neck of the woods.

    Reeni- It certainly is, but I’d love to see your interpretation.

    Taste of Beirut – I’d be interested in hearing if you find some.

    Azita – It is tasty and I love the crunchy texture it adds to a dish.

    Lori – Yes the name sounds cool and its a lot of fun in dishes.

    Whizzy – Its Latin name is Salsola soda

    Dave – Thanks for the tips.

  27. May 20, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    Emily has very strange tastes. Hates most vegetables but loves truffels, salted anchovies and pure liquorice. (one great way to serve agretti si also reheated quickly with oil and a few crushed anchovies – as they do with chicory)
    But I also suspect that there are various regional forms of agretti…here in Abruzzo the sourness is more of an aftertaste.

  28. May 20, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    I never knew this was edible. Great to know! Now, I want to taste it. The strands would look great mixed with pasta!

  29. admin
    May 20, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Joshua – Emily’s tastes and mine align perfectly around truffle, salted anchovies – but I love veggies. I have no idea how old she is, but one thing I learned from my niece is that you just never know – she loves chicken korma and Greek yogurt but hates anything green or berries unless you disguise them in a smoothie.

    BTW – your idea with anchovies makes me hope I get them in my next CSA box, I can’t wait to try it

    Lisa – It tastes delicious, I was thinking it would be great with homemade wholewheat pasta with a bit of lemon peel. I used a bit of the peel in the dinner I made and it really complimented it nicely.

  30. May 22, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    Hello friend!!

    I never have seen this veggie before but will be on the lookout for it!! Thanks for the info & lovely recipes too!

  31. May 24, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    I’ve never even heard of it before today and now I must have it!!!

  32. June 23, 2010 at 6:38 AM

    I’ve never even heard of it before today and now I must have it!!!

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