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Agretti: A New Taste of Old Italy


Agretti from Star Route Farms (photo by Stefanie Michejda)

Magazines are often one big coolhunt. Unlike the editors at Vogue—hot on the topic of motorcycle boots—my radar is more attuned to things like new menu ingredients. But just like fashion looks over its shoulder for inspiration (grunge is back, for the record), so does food—just usually a little farther back than the mid ’80s.

So when I say “new,” I mean new to me, not the Italians, who, according to Wikipedia, were growing the succulent shrub called salsola soda—or agretti, as its being labeled on menus around town—as early as the 16th century. More cribbing from Wikipedia: Native to the Mediterranean Basin, this plant was used as a source of soda ash (an alkali substance used in glassmaking and soapmaking). Although this relative of the tumbleweed isn’t used for this any more, it’s still grown for culinary purposes, from Italy to the Atlantic Coasts of France and Portugal.

Agretti means “little sour one” (I think I’ll call my six-year-old this next time he’s in a pissy mood). It’s also a little grassy/minerally; a little crunchy; and a little refreshing too. I bought some at the market the other day from Star Route Farms for an article on what farmers are growing now coming out in our August food issue. Mariquita Farm sells agretti as well. Click here to read what they have to say about it and get some recipe ideas.

On Saturday night, Zuni—who’s had it on their menu for a few months—was serving Star Route agretti griddled with oil and salt and paired with steamed halibut. They’ve also grilled agretti and used it in their fritto misto. When I asked the sous chef there (she asked that her name not be used) why she liked using it, she said because it’s a “wonderful tasting” green, it “takes on other flavors” and, well, just like any cook (or editor), she was drawn to it because it’s something new.