20 March 2016

Agretti Spaghetti - An Ode to Spring

Agretti Spaghetti with lemon and blue Toma cheese
If you have ever had the pleasure of eating agretti, barba di frate, which translates to friars beard, then I know you have probably been in search of it ever since. This is a veggie that just screams "spring" to me. It's also called saltwort, and was once highly sought after throughout Europe for it's leaves that were reduced to ashes which were then used in the process to make glass. 
Italian Agretti. barba di frate or  Salwort
This harbinger of spring has a short lived appearance in the markets and when I spy them, I make sure to bring them home. It's a funny looking vegetable that resembles a bunch of skinny succulents. The flavor of these fleshy needle like leaves are a little reminiscent of pencil thin asparagus with a subtle and slightly mineral taste. 
Lightly boiled and then slightly sautéed in olive oil and garlic before adding cooked  pasta
Most of the time I lightly boil or steam them, drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. They do need a bit of salt even though I have confused them with seaweed, as they are sometimes referred to as land seaweed. I thought they would be salty, but they are not. Their delicate flavor is almost nutty sweet and they taste best when least fiddled with.  
Most agretti and spaghetti recipes I have found call for boiling them together before saucing it all with a gorgonzola cheese sauce and maybe a light sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts or walnuts. That sounds great, but in the end I found that I preferred a light handling of the cheese,  a few cheese crumbles on top and was fresh out of nuts and found that we liked this version very much. I preferred to boil the spaghetti and agretti separately so I didn't over cook the agretti. Next time I might start the spaghetti first and then add the agretti a little while into the cooking for a one pot wonder dish, and I will definitely sprinkle a few nut pieces, or I might just make just like this again, cause to me it was just that good. 
Moncenisio Blue Cheese
Agretti and spaghetti united 

Agretti (barba di frate/ friars beard)

 Ingredients for 4 :

  • 500g spaghetti 
  • 400g di agretti o barba di frate
  • 1 lemon, juiced and the zest from the peel  
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 100 g or so Blue cheese crumbles, I used a local toma called Moncenesio - ricotta salata or parmigian are other good choices
Wash the agretti thoroughly and trim the roots off from the stems.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
Mince the garlic and have your other ingredients ready to go as it all comes together quickly at the end. 
Either cook your agretti first till desired tenderness, about 5 minutes and remove from the water and then add the spaghetti and cook till al dente.
or begin to cook your pasta adding in the agretti a little later so they cook at the same time. 
While the pasta is cooking heat the oil in a large flat sauce pan 
add the garlic and only let the garlic barely cook and then add the cooked agretti.
Cook a minute or two to coat and soften the garlic before adding the cooked spaghetti. 
Once all is coated with olive oil and thoroughly mixed, season with the lemon juice and zest. Season with the salt and pepper. 
Serve the pasta and sprinkle the pasta with blue cheese crumbles to taste on individual servings. 
Agretti spaghetti with lemon and blue cheese crumbles

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