Agretti Star in a COVID-19 Springtime Recipe
There’s always a bit of excitement at springtime outdoor markets when bunches of the dark green, thin tapered leaves of the agretti appear. Often called “barba di frate” or “beards of the friars,” their growing season is brief, over in a wink.
What buona fortuna to find them, therefore, at Novella’s vegetable stand on a recent Assisi outing:
Between serving customers, Novella cleaned some of the agretti for customers who’d asked for their greens “tutto puliti”:
Novella has cultivated agretti for many years but I wonder if she knows that this vegetable plant was once grown to be burned for the resulting soda ash used in the production of soaps and glass?
The famed lucidity of the 16th-c Murano glass of Venice was thanks to the Levantine soda ash – and the ingredient a jealously-guarded secret
Nowadays, agretti are still treasured – but as a springtime vegetable with a brief growing season.
I was happy just to have found the season’s first agretti and brought a bunch home wrapped by Novella in dampened paper:
Although we generally enjoy our agretti simply steamed and then seasoned with olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice as a side dish, I wanted to try them in a pasta sauce.
This is all you need for Pasta agli Agretti e Pinoli:
- a small bunch of agretti
- about ten ripe cherry tomatoes
- a couple garlic cloves
- about 3 T. pinenuts
- extra virgin olive oil, q. b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- grated Parmesan, q. b.
- salt, pepper, q. b
- spaghetti (a handful for every person – I always just guess…)
Note: if you don’t have agretti, you might wish to try the following recipe with tender asparagus tips, although the asparagus flavor is not similar to the slightly “agro” (“sour”, “sharp” or, “vinegarish”) hint which gives agretti its name.
Start by cleaning the agretti, ….
……cutting off the roots at the base of the thin agretti leaves:
And as I only needed a couple “ciuffetti” or little bunches for the pasta…
…I set aside a good amount of that agretti bunch for a pesto di agretti (next recipe!)
After cutting off the roots, wash the agretti in cold water:
…and then steam them for just a few minutes in salted, boiling water,….
……draining when still al dente:
Put the water for the pasta on to boil.
Toast the pinenuts in a non-stick pan (and set aside for a topping on the pasta):
Wash the cherry tomatoes and then split them in half….
Peel two garlic cloves and then flatten them with a knife or heel of your palm:
Cover the bottom of a stainless steel pan with extra-virgin olive oil (as always, I used our own olive oil) and sauté’ garlic cloves just until golden…..
….and then remove. Add tomatoes to the olive oil and cook gently on medium heat until tomato halves begin to soft (but do not over cook!)
Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water only until just al dente (as that pasta will be warmed in the aigretti sauce).
Add a ladleful of this pasta water to the tomatoes…and then…
…drain spaghetti, setting aside (as always when cooking pasta) some of the hot cooking water (“brodo della pasta“) for adding later to sauce if needed.
Add the spaghetti to the hot mixture of tomatoes….
…..and then the steamed agretti:
After folding in the agretti, add olive oil as needed to moisten the mixture…
….and stir gently:
Add salt and pepper if needed and then slide the spaghetti into the serving bowl:
Sprinkle the toasted pinenuts on top:
Add freshly-grated Parmesan cheese:
I asked Pino his thoughts of this new pasta dish: “Che ne dici, Pino?“
Fortunatamente, he voted “Buonissima!”
Ready to give this Pasta Agli Agretti e Pinoli a try?
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