One of the most exciting things of life in Rome for me is the neat distinction between produce seasons. That eagerly anticipated day when, finally, the Roman artichoke makes its arrival, or the leafy greens that disappear at your greengrocer’s overnight.
My heart jumps when I see agretti at the market early spring. They are also called Barba di Frate (monk’s beard), because supposedly it was the Capuchin friars who started cultivating them. And they had green beards. Or so the vegetable legend goes.
Agretti are salty-tasting, grassy greens that grow only in coastal areas. In Italy, they are cultivated mostly in Tuscany and Lazio. The season is ultra-short, they are available a little more than a month in the spring.
Cleaning agretti is a pain, but once you manage to get all the dirt off, they are ready in a flash. Some people eat them raw, but I prefer to eat them slightly cooked or steamed with a good glug of olive oil and a splash of lemon. Since their taste is a bit salty, not unlike samphire, but milder, I decided to pair the vegetable with seafood in an extremely simple, but surprisingly good pasta dish.
Spaghetti con agretti e gamberi (spaghetti with monk’s beard and shrimp)
For 2 persons
- 500 grams shrimp (whole)
- 1 big bunch of agretti
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 150-200 gram spaghetti
- lemon juice, to taste
- extra virgin olive oil
Peel and devein the shrimp and keep them in ice water. Clean the agretti: cut off the pink root and wash them well under streaming water. Cook them in in a little water, around 7 minutes. Rinse them with cold water.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the spaghetti al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium-sized pan over low heat. Drain and dry the shrimp on kitchen towels. Sauté the shrimp for a few minutes until just done.
Add the agretti to the pan, stir-fry for a few minutes. Drain the spaghetti and toss in with the rest. Add lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix everything well. Serve immediately.