Every once in awhile something new turns up at the farmers market that catches my eye, a thrill I’ll never tire of even after nearly two decades of being a farmers market devotee. A month ago it was a fringe-y green vegetable called agretti. A farmer from Mud Joy Farm — one of a couple of local purveyors who grow it — told me it hails from Italy and is usually served in salads or in pasta dishes.
It turns out agretti is a succulent, salsola soda, originally found throughout the Mediterranean basin that goes by the somewhat unfortunate moniker of saltwort in some places. Agretti is also related to tumbleweed and there is a structural similarity between the two if you can imagine the agretti dried out and blowing across a desert road.
I tried a twig of the deep grassy-green plant and found it to have a natural salinity and snap similar to sea asparagus or sea beans, which I’ve wild foraged for in British Columbia, and which also can be found at local farmers markets. Like sea asparagus, agretti is saltwater-tolerant and can be found along marsh banks and shorelines, though agretti can also be cultivated inland.
I separated the tender chive-like fronds of agretti from the more fibrous stalk to use in a pasta dish as well as a salad. The stalk can be used too, if chopped and sautéed or blanched, while the more delicate parts of agretti can be eaten raw.
Below are two seasonally inspired recipes that showcase the bright green succulent and its slightly salty vibe.
Artichoke Heart, Agretti & Dungeness Crab Pasta
A sunny Sunday’s purchases made at the King Market served as the basis for this dish, as well as the one below.
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side or appetizer)
- 4-8 cooked artichoke hearts (depending on size), chopped
- 8 ounces fresh, shelled Dungeness crab
- ½ to 1 cup agretti
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- ¾ pound pasta of your choice
- Olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Cook and drain pasta.
- Sauté shallot in butter or oil until translucent. Add the artichoke hearts, crab and agretti to warm.
- Toss the pasta with the vegetable and crab mixture.
- Season to taste with drizzled olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper. I also grated some lemon zest on top as a garnish. Good warm, room temperature or chilled.
Fennel, Radish, Cucumber and Agretti Salad
Ingredients (Serves 4 as a side dish)
- 1 bunch radishes (multicolored make an especially fetching salad)
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1-2 cucumbers
- ½ to 1 cup agretti
- Your favorite dressing (I used a miso version as I was serving the salad with an Asian-inspired meal, but a simple vinaigrette would work well, too.)
My favorite thrift-store find of 2012 was a vintage Japanese benriner, or mandolin, and it has become the most beloved tool in our kitchen. Paper-thin cucumbers and radishes and perfect daikon slivers have been simple pleasures that have brought untold amounts of geeky cooking joy. I used the benriner to prep all of the ingredients except the agretti in this recipe, but slicing the radishes, fennel and cucumber thin would achieve the same end. Sprinkle the agretti on top, dress the salad, toss gently and serve.