Barba di frate olio & limone (friar’s beard or agretti salad) – spring, Hip hip hooray

barba_di_frate

Finally! The daffodils in the park, the camelia & the magnolia down in the garden, the birds cheerfully chirping away in the morning.. spring!! … AND I found barba di frate (also called agretti) at one of my local semi-posh greengrocers (Newington Green Grocers-reccomended).

Barba di frate a.k.a. friar’s beard or agretti, is a green, slender vegetable, that looks like over-grown chives and tastes a  bit like spinach and sorrel, but with a more metallic, mineral undertone. It is slightly bitter and also acidula ( a tiny bis sour, but on the pleasant side of sourness).
It has a very short season between March and April – it is one the real harbingers of spring, alongside forced rhubarb and nespole .

I find it particularly delicious simply steamed and dressed with olive oil and lemon or ripassata in padella with oil and garlic (that is: steamed and sautéed with oil and garlic) and/or tomatoes. I have also used it to dress spaghetti (carbonara-style: with eggs, cooked pancetta, Parmigiano, butter + steamed barba di frate) and in frittata. If in doubt or searching for inspiration, wherever you would use spinach or sorrel, barba di frate can be an unusual, succulent alternative.

In Italy is very popular and you can find it in street markets and supermarkets, in the UK it still a  niche product. Here in  London, I found it in good ethnic greengrocers (generally Turkish & at reasonable prices) or in posh (and  expensive) shops. I paid £2.95 per bunch (which makes for one large portion): not cheap of course, but affordable; I have also seen it for sale at the formidable, eye-watering sum of £ 4.95 per bunch!

I had it for lunch few days ago, with good, fresh ricotta and Sicilian winter Marinda tomatoes (they are a recent winter variety, with good flavor and texture).

Notes:
On fruit and vegetables: if u live in London: do check the Newington Green grocers, they have good stuff, like barba di frate, puntarelle, radicchio di Treviso, cime di rapa. Their prices are not too bad generally and their produce is of good quality most of the time.

On ricotta: if u live in London: I have found good, fresh ricotta (not the supermarket pap-style thing) at a very good cheese shop: Provisions  Cheese and Wine in Holloway Rd (good price too: £ 4/300 g, which is acceptable, considering that in Borough Market I have seen fresh ricotta for £ 25-bliping £ 25 !!! per kg

16 thoughts on “Barba di frate olio & limone (friar’s beard or agretti salad) – spring, Hip hip hooray

  1. I love agretti – I first tasted it just wilted and buttered with lemon at the excellent Bocca di Lupo in Soho (London) and I love its fresh, clean taste. Never thought of growing it, but it’s an excellent idea as I’ve never seen it in grocers here and a trip to Stoke Newington just for monk’s beard is a bit TOO North London even for me …

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    1. I have the impression that u guys in the States might have a potential business: The Agretti Company – supplier of precious greens to the restaurants and the public

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    1. … yes, I saw the seeds on amazon…I wonder how easy-difficult it is to grow them… (but then u have Mayer lemon that are virtually non existent here in the UK- Justice does exist, more or less)

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  2. I am going to talk to some of my farmer friends here in Santa Cruz and see if anyone grows agretti . After all, our town was settled by Italians.

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    1. Ciao Gerlinde… agretti is really sought after here by restaurants so I would not be surprised if it is grown also in the US…. u can find the seeds on line for sure, if u want to try and grow it yourself 🙂 off to check yr blog now 🙂
      stefano

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  3. I doubt I’ll ever find that here, so it just means I need to plan a trip across the pond in spring! I do so love the spring culinary rituals. Here we have ramps (wild garlic really). Old books talk about the hungry time before they come. Everyone so ready for winter to be over and to have something fresh and green again.

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    1. ah… the angry/hungry gap!… when we had the restaurant this time of the year was really bad for the kitchen.. nothing available (I mean, nothing home grown…), apart from wild garlic… 🙂 which grew abundantly outside my kitchen… I love the stuff but there is a limit to how many ways u can use it…. now that I am in London, I miss it: I used to gather it in big fistful, here in London it goes at £ 2 per small bunch!

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  4. I have never seen Barba di Frate for sale here in the States, but perhaps I wasn’t looking? I would love to try this, and envy your wonderful markets in London. When I was there at the New Year, I didn’t even mind paying Borough Market prices for things I never see here.

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    1. ciao david… I suspect that in some farmers’ market barba di frate (agretti) could be found – generally the US farmers’ market scene is rather cool from what I read (and should u have an eataly nearby, I would not be surprised if they sold it – prices to check, of course)… ah! so u were in London recently… Borough Market is a beautiful place, no doubt. It is also very expensive often, but this is the case with most of London, especially when it comes to food. Of course this immediately makes food into a class thing, dividing people who have money to spare on quality and (the majority) who can, at best, afford supermarket stuff, which, very often, is rather boring and limited (unless shopping in waitress, the ferrari of uk supermarket).From my Italian point of view I sometimes despair at the produce I can (or cannot) find here: either very poor or outrageously expensive. there are some good farmers’ market, but, all in all, food, food production and consumption has become a big social problem here in the UK, where obesity is in the rise and the gap between a top, high spending elite and the rest of country has widened. sorry, I am in a fighting mood today 🙂 s

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  5. ciao stefan
    on home made ricotta-style fresh cheese: yes, thanks,,, I have tried many, many times and in fact when I had the restaurant we also made it to use in desserts and savories. It is a good alternative but, from my Italian point of view, I have to be honest, I cannot say it is as nice as real ricotta, especially when eaten by itself: the curds are never, in my experience, as soft and delicate in taste as real ricotta. I have tried many versions, with different acids and I got the best results from the recipe by american food writer rosetta costantino (she uses rennet). Using full fat milk and cream, the results are delicious but much heavier than real ricotta and I did not like the results using semi-skimmed milk. I am no expert, but I think that there must be something in the whey (degradation of milk proteins?) that makes ricotta what it is: creamy and yet light, tender.

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