This is a Mönch's Bart (monk's beard). It requires proper care and grooming to preserve its healthy sheen.
This is Mönchsbart, a saltwater loving plant that grows in coastal regions and presumably gets its name for its resemblance to the beard above.
The Mönchsbart that arrives each spring in Switzerland is mostly grown next door along the Italian coast and in Ticino, where it is known as barbe di frate or agretti. Although its season is extremely limited, I managed to find it in my local Coop in the middle of the Emmental.
The plant is also known by a somewhat less romantic name, salsola soda, and was initially an essential part of traditional glass and soap making processes. Burning it would leave soda ash, an important alkali now understood to be sodium carbonate.
Today, Mönchsbart is cultivated for culinary uses and the Swiss seem to have embraced it as a once a year addition to spaghetti. Even Betty Bossi has a recipe.
Some liken its flavour to spinach, but I found it tasted much more like some sort of salty sea vegetable with a slight crisp bite. Spaghetti seems to be the standard base, but the wonderful lamiacucina blog has a bunch of great Mönchsbart recipes for any occasion.
300-400 g Mönchsbart
400 g spaghetti
big knob of butter
salt and pepper
sbrinz or other hard cheese to serve
First, prepare the Mönchsbart by pulling out any slimy bits and cutting off the reddish stems. Give it a good rinse.
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti. With about 4 minutes left to cook, add the Mönchsbart.
Using a large measuring cup, scoop out and reserve about 200 ml of the cooking liquid.
When the spaghetti is cooked, drain everything into a large colander.
Put the pot back over low heat and melt the butter. Grate in the zest of the lemon, then juice it. Add the spaghetti and Mönchsbart back into the pan, stirring to coat, then add the lemon juice, reserved cooking water, salt and pepper, plus more butter to taste, if desired.
Add a generous grating of Sbrinz, parmesan, or another hard cheese.
- The pasta of choice seems to be of the long tubular variety with online blogs mentioning linguine and spaghettini as alternatives to the classic spaghetti.
- To keep it slightly crisp, don't add the Mönchsbart to the cooking pasta too soon.