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.
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.
Serves four to six
1 pound spaghetti
2 c agretti, cleaned and with “bulbs” removed
2 link Italian Sausage
4 green garlics, minced
2 c ricotta cheese
S + P
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
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
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.