Posted by: Debra Kolkka | March 15, 2020

Monk’s beard for lunch

Today was only day 6 of the lock down but I have been up at Casa Debbio for about 12 days. Apart from not being able to go to the bar for morning coffee,  is not a trial, but I do have to plan my days to keep occupied.

One way is to cook. On my last shopping trip before the lock down I found some barba di frate or monk’s beard, also called agretti. It looks a bit like chives and taste a bit like slightly bitter spinach. It grows in sandy seashores along the Mediterranean coast and particularly popular in Tuscany.

It is only available for about 6 weeks in spring. It is easy to prepare. The bottom part of the plant needs to be cut off and the rest well washed as it can have quite a lot of dirt attatched. I then boiled it for about 5 minutes in salted water and drained it.

I fried some spring onions, a few anchovies and a couple of chopped tomatoes in olive oil. Once these had softened I added the cooked agretti. At the same time I cooked the spaghetti. When it was ready I added the spaghetti to the pan and mixed it all together.

I still had half a bunch left so the next day I made some mini frittata…also delicious. I hope I can find some more agretti before the season is over..

The last couple of days were a bit overcast and miserable, so the gardening was limited.

Today we had sun, but there was a mean little wind. I did venture out to inspect the latest happenings in the garden. My peonies have grown millimeters and I found a few more baby acanthus to transplant. They seem to pop up overnight.

Despite the wind it was a beautiful day.

One of the new weeping cherries is doing well.

The quince tree has buds.

The kiwi on the fence I s covered in buds.

Ginestra is about to bloom.

One of Jim’s projects, the wall behind the house, is growing like mad. The descending rosemary is looking great under the bay trees. It is going to have to go on without him. He was supposed to arrive from Australia in about 10 days, but who knows when he will be able to come to Italy.

The blossoms on the older weeping cherry are growing daily.


The lavender under the chestnut trees didn’t do well last year. When we planted it the chestnut tree was ill and we cut it right back and the lavender had plenty of sun. Now that the tree is doing well it throws too much shade on the plants below it.

We pulled them all out and planted hydrangeas which are more shade tolerant. I’m hoping they grow quickly.

The major excitement today was a walk to the village to put some rubbish in the community bins. We have no rubbish collection at the house.

The track to the village is lined with primulas and hellebores.


The villages look even more sleepy than usual.

Normally on a Sunday afternoon people would be gathered in the piazza enjoying a coffee or a glass of wine outside the bar…not today. There were a couple of people about, but everyone kept their distance. It is very sad. Everyone is doing their best to beat this thing. There are lots of older people in the village. It would be devastating if the infection found its way here.



  1. Barbe di Prete literally Priest Roots (and not monk beards’) thank you!!

    • I think the roots of the vegetable are called that. Barba means beard.

  2. Love your recipes and good to see the finished results. It is indeed a really sad and unsettling time everywhere.

    • Thank you. This time will pass and life will return to normal.

  3. I love reading your blog Debra. Tough times and everyone must do whatever is needed to protect the community. Stay well and …. carry on!!! What is next on the menu??

    • Thank you. It is difficult for people whose lives have been put on hold. I hope it passes soon. I’ll have to think of something interesting to cook. Most days it is fairly basic. Cooking for one is not much fun.

  4. Lots of luck Debra – you are in a beautiful place but I know how frustrating it is. We, on the Central Coast, 1 hour north of Sydney, have not had any reported cases but I am stocking the pantry. Not with toilet paper mind you! I live on a hill with a nice open view so, like you, working in my garden will keep me happy.

    • We had lots of plans for things to do in Italy in the next couple of months, but they can wait. I would hate to catch the virus and be responsible for sharing it.
      Some sunny gardening weather would be great.

  5. Perhaps start writing your very interesting autobiography?

    • Not all that interesting.

  6. I hope the weather improves a little to allow you to get out into the garden. Even it you are not working outside it is such a lovely sitting garden you have.

    • It will be nice to sit under the pergola covered with wisteria. That should happen soon. I am always in a hurry for things to grow, but they ignore me and do it when they are ready.

  7. The garden is looking so good Deb!! Glad you’re making the best of your isolation.

    • We all just have to do our best and try to stop this virus spreading.

  8. The agretti sounds interesting and your cooked dishes look lovely as does your garden. I hope your music loving neighbour is enlivening your solitude. We went shopping in Maleny this morning and discovered there are no onions to be had – how can you stockpile onions! There were lots of gaps on the shelves. However it’s a gloriously sunny and windy autumn morning here so nothing to grumble about. I hope you’ve got some good books, or audio books. I can recommend The Bee Keeper of Aleppo, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window …. and Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine, plus There Was Still Love and podcasts like John Anderson (

    • Thank you for the book suggestions. Panic buying is silly. The food shops will be the last thing to close. With a bit of clever buying it is not difficult to organise good meals. I really miss my trip to the bar for breakfast.

  9. Great to hear how you spend your days, while being locked up, it seems that you make the most of it. I recently have learned from a friend, how to make a stock of veggie broth. Simply saving all the scraps of … when you peel potatoes, onions, carrots , stems of any herbs, mushroom stems, and any kind which might up into your trash, saving them in the freezer in a ziplock bag…. later on it will give you a great broth. Well just passing on. Stay safe

    • Thank you for the tip. Making broth is a great idea. You can use it for lots of things. I think most of us are going to be affected but this virus one way or another.

      • You are most welcome, Debra, I use it for so many meals and soups. Stay safe and healthy.

  10. Your culinary creations look super tasty… well done Deb!! Let’s hope for a little warmer weather so you can keep busy in the garden!! Poor old Jim missing out on his garden chores, he will have to transfer his enthusiasm to Highgate Hill garden!! Stay well old chum! Jxx

    • Today is lovely and I can see the first green tips on the trees. It will all happen quickly now.

  11. I don’t think I’d ever leave if I lived there! You are so lucky. I hope Italy recovers soon.

    • I know I am lucky. I leave reluctantly each time, but I know I will be back soon.

  12. Thank YOU for sharing your culinary skills…don’t know agretti; but your photos reveal classy dishes just like the ones you post from posh restos you’ve visited. Fascinating what one learns from this blog of yours, not only your posts but those of your readers. Our news this a.m. was warning not to panic shop/and/or hoard…human nature is globally active right now, fear based and, of course an unprecedented crisis – so, I reiterate, your creative posts are extremely welcome, I find everything you do to be interesting, informative and soul soothing. I was thinking about your ‘pop up’ shops where you make and sell your lovely designs…if you had access to a machine at Casa Debbio could you get a jump-start on that OR Introduce the locals to your skills, they would be just as popular in Bella Italia! In retrospect I guess this is a fantasy…purchasing the material would be the first challenge. These are extraordinary times – please post anything!!! GRAZIE!

    • If I had a sewing machine and fabric here I would definitely be sewing! I love making things.
      It is a weird time for all of us. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months.
      I have to repeat that I am very lucky to be here in a lovely place with no hardship at all. I know that everyone does not have this luxury.

  13. I hope people will start social distancing here because it is such a hard virus to contain. I have also seen some people who have it and they don’t seem to show any symptoms which makes things more difficult. Thank you for the lovely diversion Debra.

    • Stay well and enjoy isolation.

  14. You have a beautiful garden to keep you occupied in this uncertain time. As of today, I start working from home, and while there’s enough work to keep me busy, I should also begin planning out my day-to-day routine — at least my house plants will be happy that now I’m home. Stay safe and healthy, Debra!

    • I think it is important to have a routine. I wish you the best.

  15. How beautiful your spring garden is looking. And a wonderful escape from this terrible virus. Let’s hope it passes soon. Our trip to Todi is postponed, indefinitely for now. Hoping to return in autumn….

    • I sincerely hope we can all resume our normal lives soon. It is a pity about missing your trip. I arrived in Italy just as the first cases were becoming known.

  16. I really enjoyed looking at your photos and taking a tour of your beautiful property. Your weeping cherry tree is stunning and yours is such a different landscape to here in Australia. My rosemary is growing well but not flowering like yours, and my bayleaf tree is starting to take off. I’ve never heard of Monk’s Beard but your dish sounds delicious. Thanks for sharing. Cooking and gardening provide a lot of pleasure during such difficult times.

    • My garden, cooking (and Netflix) are keeping me occupied.
      Our rosemary is flowering more than usual. We usually prune the lavender and rosemary in late autumn but it rained incessantly in November and it didn’t get done. It is so pretty now we won’t prune until the plants stop flowering.

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