In a recent post on a Southern Italian specialty: Erba di Mare – or rock samphire – an antipasto recipe I initially identified the plant as salsola soda, which also grows by the seaside, is harvested mainly in Spring, is hard to find outside Italy and which looks similar to rock samphire. However, wanting to make sure I identify plants correctly I did some searching, which led me to discover agretti via a newspaper article: Agretti the Italian Vegetable that chefs are fighting over Guardian May 2015
While the seeds were no longer available in May in the UK they were still on sale in continental Europe so I went ahead and ordered a packet. The plants are very pretty, which makes it hard for me to harvest them, the flavour of agretti is pleasantly grass-like, slightly salty and is has a nice crunch thanks to the succulent leaves. I grew mine on the balcony, as you can see they grew very well (seeds planted in May – photo of the plants from July 25th). I harvest the plants in snippets, this means the rest will likely grow tough and inedible, but they really are very pretty to look at.
I served the agretti with trout roe, grated lemon rind, sour cream and lots of black pepper on linguine, and it was a very pleasing combination.
I harvested the salsola soda, as you can see above right and blanched it in the water I was boiling for the pasta by putting the agretti in a sieve dipping it in the water, at a roiling boil, and watching it until it wilted. If you take too long doing this step you will lose the crunch and bite of the agretti, if you don’t do it, the leaves are too stiff to enjoy on the pasta, I left some leaves un-blanched to test and found the blanched ones better. As soon as you have finished blanching, run some cold water over the vegetable and set aside to dry on some paper towels.
Set out the rest of your ingredients so that when your pasta is ready you are ready to serve. Either boil a kettle so that you can warm your plates, or else use the pasta water once you have finished cooking the pasta to warm your plates.
- Ingredients serves 2
- 1 organically grown lemon grated rind and about 1/2 – 1 tablespoon juice
- 1 handful freshly harvested agretti leaves not the stems, they are too tough. Blanched in boiling water then cooled with cold water and dried and set aside
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns (cracked and crushed by hand with a mortar and pestle for best consistency)
- small pot of trout roe
- about 1 tablespoon butter (I used french lightly salted)
- sour cream about 1 tablespoon
- linguine (75g – 100g per person depending on whether you are serving as a starter or main and how hungry you are)
Cook linguine as specified on the packet, prepare all the ingredients above while you wait, there is ample time to do this while the pasta cooks if you are adept in your kitchen. If not prep ahead. When the pasta is finished, warm the plates with the hot water from the pasta and dry them, put the cream in the bottom with some lemon juice (divided among the plates as well as some flakes of butter, put the linguine on top, dot the rest of the butter over the pasta, and decorate with lemon rind, agretti, trout roe and liberal sprinklings of crushed pepper corns. Guests mix their seasonings into the linguine after you serve them. Pretty isn’t it?