Sunday, 26 February 2012

Oh Brother!

Involtino di Manzo con Barba di Frate su Puré di Patate
Beef Roll with Olive Pesto and Sage Filling, with Saltwort and Mashed Potato

There is no happier moment, when I am out at the market hall shopping for produce, than when I discover something weird and wonderful and new. I am talking about that ring of fresh greens you can see, orbiting my meat and potatoes, like something from another world...

No it is not a whole bunch of chives, or a string of seaweed, it is Saltwort, also known as "Barba di Frate", which means "Monks Beard" when translated directly from the Italian. And both names are accurate in a way- one simply refers to the vegetables "hair-like" appearance and the other, to the naturally salty flavor. Read on and I will tell you more about it!

I happened upon this wonderful stuff yesterday and was quite perplexed by its seaweed/algae-like appearance, so I asked what it was and was told "Barba di Frate". Like I should know what it is! I did an internet search and found it is not all that obscure and that it is in season right now- one of the earliest Spring greens. It has a naturally salty flavor and the best comparison I can come up with, is to say that it is like a robust spinach, but a little more pungent and "nutty". It is mainly cultivated in Spain and Sicily for the mediterranean market, but also grows in Afrika... who knew?

In any case- let me begin with the beef roll, which was very simply spread with an olive tapanade and covered with sage leaves, then rolled together and wrapped in ceran wrap nice and tightly. I popped this, together with the saltwort, into my steamer and gave them both 5 minutes- after which time the greens were already tender and a bright, vivid green. I tossed them in a little olive oil, added a few slices of garlic and a light dusting of nutmeg to lightly perfume it and kept it warm until serving.

After the beef had rested for 2-3 minutes, I unwrapped it and fried it at a very high heat in some clarified butter, with some very finely chopped garlic and orange zest, coarsely ground pepper and some sea salt. As soon as it was browned off from all sides it was ready to serve! I deglazed the frying pan with a little white wine to pick up the juices and good flavor from browning the meat and added this later upon serving. With a simple sage leaf as a garnish, this made for a very simple yet elegant meal... and my first of many dishes using those old "Brother's" beards!


  1. I remember barba di frate well from my days in Rome. It was perhaps not my favorite vegetable, but a nice change of pace. I haven't seen them for years now… :=(

    1. I hearya Frank- it may well not be for everybody, but variety is the spice of life as they say- and I am always happy to try something new and different! I have to admit that I enjoyed it more in my pasta dish, with some added flavors- still, it was in season, it was there, it was green and it got eaten :-D And in all fairnes... it WAS actually pretty good;-)