eating grass: agretti frittata

One of my weirdest food memories from when we lived in Rome when I was a child is the grass my mother would make. I remember the plate of grass coming to the table, and we were allowed to dress it ourselves, with as much lemon juice and olive oil as we liked. Since I loved the chance to squeeze lemon juice onto anything, this seemed to me the perfect food.

Once we moved back to the States, I eventually forgot about this ‘grass’, and when I did think about it, I thought I must have imagined it. I mean, really, we ate grass?

All that changed when I finally moved back to Rome as an adult and rediscovered ‘grass.’ As it turns out, my mother had been cooking up agretti, which I happily found all over the markets in Rome, starting in late February. Grass!

Because it does really look like grass. Or seaweed. Or some sort of plant that is more suited for ground cover than table cover.

Agretti are also called Barba dei Frate, or Monk’s Beard. (I guess because they look like whiskers?) They are succulent, and grow in small little clumps. In the market they are sold in bunches, usually with the roots still attached. To clean them you just break off the thick root end. Or better yet, buy them already cleaned.

I’m tempted to use them raw, with their slightly sour, green taste. But I usually just boil them briefly in salted water, drain and then dress them with olive oil and lemon juice. In other words, grass, just like mommy used to make.

But this past week I’ve been trying my best to make good use of my over-ambitious shopping spree at D.O.L. A dozen eggs, and WAY too much cheese made me think maybe a frittata was in order. Also, I’d been having delicious frittatas made with greens lately, at L’Asino d’Oro and also at Vino e Camino.

Frittatas can often be boring, I find. I know it’s an egg dish, but the frittatas I like are always more about the non-egg ingredients. So I try to keep the eggs to a minimum, just enough to bind the mostly veggie/cheese mixture together.

The choice of cheese is tricky too, especially when using such a delicately tasting green as agretti. The frittata at L’Asino d’Oro included ricotta, which is a great idea. Instead I used Cacio Magno, an oragnic raw sheep’s milk cheese, aged for only 30 days. It was a bit tangy, but soft and very creamy. Almost like taleggio, but sheepier and richer. Cut into small cubes it melted just enough to make the frittata deliciously decadent, and was the perfect contrast to all that grass. I mean agretti.

Agretti Frittata
Serves 4

Two bunches of agretti, cleaned
120 etti / 4 oz of Cacio Magno (you can substitute Taleggio or Brie)
3 eggs
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt, and boil agretti for about 4 minutes, till just wilted. Drain well.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the cooled, drained agretti and stir.
Cut the cheese into small cubes, about 1/4 inch. Add cheese, stir well.

Heat a 10 inch non-stick saute pan, and add olive oil. Swirl to coat, and add egg mixture. Turn the heat to low, and put lid on. Let cook gently, without stirring, till almost set.

Carefully hold the pan and lid with an oven mit, and flip the pan over so that the frittata is now resting on the lid. Gently slide the frittata back into the pan, so that the top is now on the bottom. Although this sounds difficult, once you do it a few times, it’s really quite easy. And if you mess up, and the frittata breaks apart the first few times, don’t worry. It will still taste great.

Once you’ve flipped the frittata it only takes about one more minute to cook.
Serve warm, or at room temp.

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  1. says

    I received some agretti in my CSA last year, here in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure how to prepare it. I will be ready with your recipe this year. It looks so good. Thanks.

  2. says

    Seems like you are so ahead of us (SF)in the seasons. Our artichokes aren’t ready yet and I’m sure the agretti came in spring last year. Is that always the case?

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