Opposite Leaved Saltwort?
Oh, it’s just another name for Salsola soda, duh! You know … Oppositeleaf Russian Thistle. Doesn’t that ring a bell? Oh very well then, here’s another hint: Barilla plant.
No? no wonder. I’d never heard of these names either, not until I was looking up the Italian translation for a lovely Spring vegetable called ‘agretti’ or ‘barba di frate’. Wikepedia came to the recipe. If you want to go straight to the recipe for this post, you can skip the following three paragraphs. But, as always when it comes to food, it’s amazing how much history one can discover!
Wikipedia about agretti: …. ” is a small (to 0.7 m tall), annual, succulent shrub that is native to the Mediterranean Basin. It is a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant) that typically grows in coastal regions and can be irrigated with salt water.
The plant has great historical importance as a source of soda ash, which was extracted from the ashes of Salsola soda and other saltwortplants. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances that are crucial in glassmaking and soapmaking. The famed clarity of 16th century cristalloglass from Murano and Venice depended upon the purity of “Levantine soda ash,” and the nature of this ingredient was kept secret. Spain had an enormous 18th century industry that produced soda ash from the saltworts (barrilla in Spanish). Soda ash is now known to be predominantly sodium carbonate. In 1807, Sir Humphry Davy isolated a metallic element from caustic soda; he named the new element “sodium” to indicate its relationship to “soda.” Before soda was synonymous (in U.S. English) with soft drinks, the word referred to Salsola soda and other saltwort plants, and to “sodas” derived from soda ash.
While the era of farming for soda ash is long past, Salsola soda is still cultivated as a vegetable that enjoys considerable popularity in Italy and with gourmets around the world. Its common names in Italian include Barba di Frate, Agretti, and Liscari sativa. Of its culinary value,Frances Mayes has written that “Spinach is the closest taste, but while agretti has the mineral sharpness of spinach, it tastes livelier, full of the energy of spring.”
Last night we had some friends from Denmark for dinner, a couple and their beautiful daughter (they also have three gorgeous boys) who were neighbours almost until a year and a half ago, and whom we still sorely miss. I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen fussing over fiddly food when they got here, so I came up with the easiest menu I could think of. While the pasta was cooking, I servied fried carciofi wedges and some fresh pecorino and ricotta because it was getting a bit late and we were all more than peckish by then. At table, dinner consisted of a pasta with a wild asparagus and tomato sauce, chicken legs, vignarola and … agretti. Get-together dinners are always special, there are so many stories to be exchanged, gossip to catch up on, and good will to be spread. So, no surprises here … What did come as a surprise was our friends’ total and declared love for the agretti. Every time I cook agretti from now on, I shall think of the enthusiastic reception by our Danish friends and love them even more!
So, remember, never be short …. of opposite leaved saltwort!
Bring water to the boil, add some salt. Add the agretti and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Don’t cover … covering any pot of boiling green vegetables for some reason does something drastic to the intensity of their beautiful green hue.