Spaghetti with Barba di Frate

Beautiful spring weather means a new crop of spring veggies, including something I thought looked like seaweed at our local market. Its shape resembles a thick chive, but looks more like a succulent plant that might even grow under water. When I asked about it, the store clerk told me it tasted like spinach and is often served with pasta.

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Back at home, I searched for more information about this mystery vegetable. For starters, I found out it’s known by many names. At my local Suisse romande market, the sign for it was labeled with one of at least three Italian names: barba di frate.

Name Language
salsola soda Latin
barba di frate, agretti, roscano Italian
saltwort, barilla English
barbe de moine French
mönchsbart German

The barba di frate I bought came from Italy. It’s typically found in salty, coastal areas of Southern Europe, such as along the Mediterranean Sea. If you want to grow it yourself, you don’t need to be in Italy though; it looks like you can buy seeds from various online sources.

Besides eating barba di frate as a vegetable, people once used this plant to make “impure” sodium carbonate (barilla) for soap and glass, for example. In terms of taste, I think it does have a mild, but somewhat salty flavor that certainly reminds me of eating seaweed.

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Everything I read about this springtime delicacy said to serve it with lemon and olive oil. With this in mind, I immediately thought of a recent favorite recipe from the Food Allergy Mama, “Spaghetti with Garlic Oil.” Using this recipe as a guide, I incorporated barba di frate into an easy weekday supper. If you can’t find it though, you could substitute another quick-cooking green like spinach.

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Spaghetti with Barba di Frate

16 oz./450 grams spaghetti
1 bunch of barba di frate, trimmed and rinsed (or a couple handfuls of baby spinach)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lemon, freshly squeezed juice from one half and zest from the whole thing
kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in boiling water, as instructed on the package. During the last 2 minutes or so of cooking, put the barba di frate in the boiling water with the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, simmer the garlic in the olive oil over low-to-medium heat for at least 5-7 minutes. The garlic can lightly brown a bit, but just don’t let it get dark brown or burn.

When the pasta and barba di frate is finished cooking, drain it in a colander and place it in a large bowl. Toss it with the warmed olive oil and garlic mixture, the lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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While spring has arrived to Switzerland, along with lots of new fresh produce to discover, I’ve heard rumors of snow this weekend… We’ll enjoy the beautiful weather again today, while we can. I hope spring flowers, like the daffodils below, are blooming (or will be blooming soon) wherever you are.

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If you’re looking for more recipes, Swiss travel info and other food allergy news from Dairy-Free Switzerland, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Thanks for your continued support. Bon week-end!

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