Last week at the Little Italy Mercato, while picking through the citrus usually sold at the Polito Family Farm stall, I came upon a cloud of greens that I'd never seen before. Meet agretti, a Mediterranean plant originally from the Adriatic with the Latin name Salsola soda and also known as "opposite leaved salwort," "opposite leaf Russian thistle," "Barilla plant," "Barba di Frate," "roscana," and "Liscari sativa."
The only two farms I know of that grow and sell it are Polito and Windrose (who sells it through Specialty Produce), but it's a short season in the spring and that's it.
Well, as I wrote in my Local Bounty column for San Diego Magazine, the season's short and it's now, so get on it quick. It's a strange, wild looking vegetable, sometimes confused with the equally strange sea bean. But instead of being infused with saltiness like the sea bean, the flavor is grassy. It's long stemmed with little leaves reminiscent of rosemary leaves. When you buy them, look for the slenderest of stems or just use the tops and leave the thicker stems at the bottom of the plant.
At the Polito stall, I was told that agretti is traditionally sauteed in butter, olive oil, and lemon -- and maybe a little shallot -- then tossed with pasta. But, they'd also heard of chefs using it to top pizza. Of course, you can always use it fresh -- chopped into a salad. Since I'd also just bought fresh eggs from Schaner Farms, I decided to make a frittata.
Regardless of how you end up using your sauteed agretti (and I sauteed mine just in olive oil with garlic and the green onions above), keep in mind that they will cook down, rather like spinach. Just don't cook them so much that they lose their crunch.
When these were ready I simply added two eggs and one egg white that I had beaten with a little milk and let them cook until set. Earlier, I had pulled out my French diable and added coarse sea salt and about half a dozen small Yukon gold potatoes. I've written about the diable before.
It's a marvelous clay pot from France (I bought it online from L'Atelier Vert) that cooks root vegetables and chestnuts without oil. Between the steam and the heat, the salt, and the rustic red clay's inimitable properties, you end up with a crispy potato that's creamy on the inside with a smoky flavor.
And that's it. A very easy dinner that's about as seasonal as you can get.