Greens come in all shapes and sizes. Some are sweet and tender, others are grassy, assertive and toothsome. Some varieties grow wild and other can be found in most any garden or on farms. Personally, I'm a huge fan of all these greens; haven't met one I didn't like yet. Which is why, strolling through the Mercato last weekend I was surprised by a wild and tangled pile of mystery greens. Surprised not just because it was stuck in the middle of all the citrus at Polito Family Farms, but also I'd never heard of it. Agretti, the sign read, "little sour one".
And here's what I found out from the man who grows it himself: It's an Italian green, typically grown in the salt marshes around the Adriatic, but it will thrive in any salty environment. Highly prized by chefs , agretti's crisp and tender little leaves look like an underwater marine plant and when eaten raw the taste is reminiscent of sour grass - a little acidic, grassy and naturally salty. With a similar nutritional content to that of spinach, you can use it almost the same way. And like spinach when it's sauteed or blanched, the flavors mellow a bit and a squeeze of lemon really perks things up. Actually, as it was explained to me, the squeeze of lemon is imperative.
Last night, after stripping the tender leaves away from the thicker stems, I sauteed a couple of handfuls of agretti in a bit of olive oil and minced garlic for a few minutes, just until it wilted a bit but still retained some bite. I took it off the heat, squeezed the juice from one quarter of a lemon over the top and transferred it onto a plate. I then did a quick pan roast of a snapper fillet from Poppa's Fresh Fish - nothing but a little salt and pepper - and laid the fish over the agretti. One last quick squeeze of lemon over the top and dinner was served. Bright and lively, this was an excellent pairing of the agretti and fish. Thanks goes to Bob at Polito and Mark at Poppa's for the expert tutelage.
I hardly put a dent in the bunch, so I've still got some experimenting to do. Pesto is at the top of my list, but maybe you have some other tasty suggestions?