One of my favourite ingredients of all time is agretti, or saltwort. In Italy you find it all over the place, particularly in Rome. They love to cook with it, put it in pastas and all over pizzas. It grows wild, usually ocean-side, and has a wonderful succulent deliciousness to it—very much like a sea bean or sea asparagus. When it comes in wild it’s especially aromatic and salty, with an ocean-like vegetal flavour. Whenever we have access to it, we use lots of it and throw in salads or sautée it. We do it with pasta and clams, and it pairs really well with eel and crab. I get it now from an aquaculture grower in Ontario. I think I’m the only one in Toronto who buys it. —R.G.
Gnochetti with Crab and Agretti:
- 2 L (2 quarts) court bouillon
- 1 large Dungeness crab, about 1 kg (2¼ lb)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp white wine
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 rib celery, thinly sliced
- 500 ml (2 cups) preserved or tinned top-quality Italian tomatoes
- 2 sprigs basil, leaves only
- 600 g (20 oz) gnochetti*
- 120 g (¼ lb) cold butter, cubed, about 1 cm (½ inch)
- 15 g (½ oz) agretti
- 2 tbsp minced chives
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp toasted or fried bread crumbs 1 tbsp toasted or fried breadcrumbs
- Micro-planed zest of lime or orange (or both)
- Fine extra virgin olive oil
Bring the court bouillon to a boil in a Dutch oven or saucepan large enough to accommodate the crab. Add the crab, lower to a simmer and poach, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove crab, chill in iced water, and drain. Shell the crab, reserving separately the picked crab meat, the shells and edible innards (tomalley, mainly). Break the crab meat into bite-sized pieces, and set aside in the refrigerator. Break or chop the shell into pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-high. Add the crab shell and innards, onion, carrot and celery, and sauté until the shells turn red—about 5 minutes. Deglaze. When the wine has reduced to syrup add the tomatoes. Reduce for 3 minutes, then add 1.5 L (1½ quarts) cold water. Reduce by half. Remove shells, add basil leaves, and use a blender to blitz until smooth. Strain crab broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan and reserve.
To finish, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Transfer 500 ml (2 cups) of the reserved crab broth to a large sauté pan or saucepan on high heat. Reduce by half. Reduce heat to low, and whisk in butter one piece at a time. When the butter has been completely emulsified, set aside (keep warm). Add gnochetti to the boiling salted water and cook for 3 minutes. Drain, then add to the crab broth over low heat. Add two-thirds of the agretti. Stir gently until gnocchetti are well-coated and the sauce is thickened—2 to 3 minutes. Add the crab meat, chives and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until crab is just heated through. Taste and add salt if necessary. Distribute between 6 (or 4) warm plates. Garnish with breadcrumbs, zest and the remaining agretti, and finish with a drizzle of fine olive oil.
Photography by Ryan Szulc
This wine has an inherent salinity to it which will help to enhance the flavours of the Agretti
For more info on these and other fine wines, go to Mark Anthony Wine & Spirits.