Also known as monk’s beard or barba di frate, agretti is a relatively specialist ingredient. It’s only around at the very end of winter through spring, and I include a ‘recipe’ here because I suspect that, during those months, most of us would pass over a bunch of these long, noodle-like green strands, thinking that we don’t really know what to do with them. In fact, it’s all very easy: wash, boil for less than 60 seconds and dress with some peppery olive oil. In other words, next to no effort.
But your sense of adventure is rewarded with a wonderful seasonal side: one that’s grassy, fresh and has great texture. In restaurants you often find just a few strands as part of a dish. At home I like generous twirls of it next to white fish, lamb and mutton, seafood such as scallops and crab, or even just with cooling mozzarella or ricotta.
- Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
- 1 large bunch (about 300 g) agretti
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cut the tough, woody and stringy root ends off the base of the agretti. Fill a large bowl or sink with cold water and plunge the agretti in. Shake it about to loosen any mud and grit. Transfer to a sieve or colander, empty the sink or bowl and repeat until the agretti is completely clean (probably 4–6 times).
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. When it’s at a rapid rolling boil (and you’re about to eat), add the agretti and blanch it for 45–60 seconds. No more. Drain and return it to the pan or put it in a serving bowl. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper, then dress liberally with the oil. Mix well to ensure the strands are all glossed. Serve immediately.