Melanie Johnson offers up ways to use agretti, a less salty equivalent of samphire.

Agretti – or monk’s beard – is the Tuscan answer to our marsh samphire. Both can be used in the same way, but agretti is less salty and, therefore, less of an acquired taste.

Roasted sea bream with agretti and cucumber (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 finely sliced medium fennel bulb
  • 2 finely sliced medium red onions
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 finely sliced celery stalks
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 2 sea bream
  • 200ml apple juice
  • 100ml cream
  • 100g agretti
  • Half a cucumber, peeled, deseeded and sliced
  • 2tbspn chopped dill

Method
Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4. Mix together the fennel, red onion, apple and celery in a large bowl with the lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning until everything is well coated. Tip out onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, spreading the ingredients out evenly. Place the two fish on top, sprinkle with salt and fold the parchment paper to seal, then bake for 20 minutes.

When the fish are cooked, place them onto a board ready to remove from the bone and transfer everything else, juices included, into a saucepan. Place the pan over a medium heat, add the apple juice and heat until the vegetables are fully cooked through.

Put everything into a processor and create a purée, then pass it through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan. Heat again and pour in the cream, mixing well. Add the agretti, cucumber and dill and cook for a further few minutes.

Remove the fish from the bone and divide the fillets between four plates. Pour the sauce over it and serve immediately—wild rice would make a good accompaniment.

More ways with agretti

Roasted sea bream with agretti and cucumberCrab-and-agretti scones
Mix together 110g of self-raising flour, a pinch of salt, 25g of butter, 15ml of milk and half a beaten egg—keep the other half for brushing over the scone tops. Bring to a dough and roll out, then cut mini rounds and arrange on a baking sheet, brushing the remaining beaten egg over the tops. Bake in a hot oven for about 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack. Mix 200g of white crab meat with a tablespoon of mayonnaise, lemon juice, seasoning and a pinch of chilli flakes. Blanch some agretti in boiling water and toss in lemon juice. Split the scones while still warm, piling small mounds of crab onto the halves, then top with agretti for a luxurious little starter.

Agretti, asparagus and poached-egg salad
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and drop in the asparagus and agretti, cook for about 4–6 minutes, then scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Drop an egg into the same water to poach for 3 minutes. Toss the agretti and asparagus with olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning and arrange on plates. Top each serving with a poached egg and serve.

A side of agretti
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, drop in the agretti and cook for 4–6 minutes. Drain well and toss in a frying pan with butter, lemon zest and seasoning. Serve with lamb, chicken or fish.