In our global economy, where almost every kind of food can be imported from afar, only rare, regional, and highly perishable foods remain elusive. Agretti is a prime example — it’s a Mediterranean vegetable available for only a few weeks each spring at Italian markets. It’s rare to find it in the U.S., and then only at farmers markets.
Unless you grow your own, you may never enjoy the salty, sour, crunchy green that Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun, described as “full of the energy of spring.”
Luckily, we have the seeds so you can grow your own. Be aware, though, that they sell fast and once they are gone, we can’t get any more until the next year.
Agretti aficionados (and there are a surprisingly large number of them) love the vegetable as a side dish dressed with lemon and olive oil, served with fish, or mixed with angel hair pasta, which it resembles in shape. It can be eaten raw, and the flavor is most often described as “grassy.” Once cooked, it tastes more like spinach.
Agretti’s botanical name is Salsola soda and it goes by a raft of common names including Monk’s Beard, Barba di Frate, Roscano, and Saltwort. It is a salt-tolerant plant that is naturally found growing along the Italian coast, but it can also be grown in a normal garden setting.
Agretti needs cool weather to grow well, so in the U.S. that means starting it very early indoors, or being prepared to protect it from frost if grown outdoors. It cannot be grown in fall because the seed loses viability quickly. In other words, buy the seed and plant it January through March for a May-June harvest.
We recommend that you soak the hard seeds overnight before sowing. Indoors, start them in a tray covered with about a half-inch of soil and move them into cells or pots as the first true leaves emerge. Outdoors, space the seeds about 4 inches apart and thin to 8 inches apart.
The chive-like plants can be harvested by pulling up the entire plant when they are about 6-10 inches tall. Some people prefer to leave the roots in the ground, and just cut leaves as needed. Handled this way, the plants will become very large and branching and will eventually flower and produce seed.
Here is a recipe for Agretti With Angel Hair Pasta from one of our California customers.
You can purchase seeds here.