Italian

A Punchy Italian Condiment You'll Want to Put on Everything

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April 19, 2016

Don't be fooled—it may look like pesto, but this is far from it. Rather than being rich and creamy from Parmesan, oil and pine nuts, salsa verde is sharp and savory, zingy and zesty.

Known as bagnet vert or “green sauce” in Piedmont, salsa verde can thank parsley for its grassy freshness and long-lasting color and capers and anchovies for its punch. The combination of ingredients recalls the ancient vie del sale—literally “streets of salt"—that connected the landlocked valleys and hills of Piedmont to the sea at Liguria. Ligurian olive oil, salt, and anchovies made their way through these ancient routes into the heart of Piedmont's cuisine, and they can still be found in the region's favorite sauces, like this bagnet vert and bagna cauda—a warm, hearty sauce of garlic, olive oil, and anchovies.

Salsa verde is most well known in Italy for being the number one condiment for bollito misto, a very traditional and rather old-fashioned dish of boiled beef and offal—but there's so much more that this sauce can do. In Piedmont, you'll find it as a topping on tomini, the delicious rounds of soft cheese, and on halved boiled eggs or on crostini for antipasto.

Photo by Emiko Davies

Try it with roast lamb. Use it on grilled fish. Toss a tablespoon of it through some freshly steamed or boiled new potatoes. Alice Waters suggests serving it over whole roasted cauliflower.

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“cloves garlic, peeled 6 good quality anchovy fillets ¼ cup Persian small pickles with tarragon (find them in Mediterranean grocery stores or substitute with cornichons) ¼ cup capers Handful fresh mint 1 bunch fresh basil 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley 1 tbsp Dijon mustard 3 tbsp red wine vinegar ½ cup extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt) Pulse first 9 ingredients in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil and season to taste. Do not over blend, as the mixture should still have some chunkiness. ”
— Angela P.
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It also makes cheap, simple sandwich into a dish worth remembering. The Florentines know this well: They dollop it on their warm panini of stewed Lampredotto (abomasum tripe, their favorite kind of offal), which is the defining dish of the Renaissance city. And in Piedmont, their go-to panino in a flash is salsa verde with anchovies. Follow that philosophy and try it on sandwiches with leftover roast chicken, turkey, or tuna.

It's also wonderful on pizza. I regularly visit a wonderful hole-in-the-wall pizza place in southern Tuscany's Porto Ercole called Grano, where they make the most sublime pizza rossa (“red pizza”—in other words, no cheese), topped with salted anchovies and bright blobs of salsa verde. With a sauce like this, you don't even miss the cheese.

Photo by Emiko Davies

In traditional salsa verde recipes from Piedmont, many add fresh breadcrumbs, soaked in red wine vinegar, and even egg yolk or a whole boiled egg to thicken it. Probably one of the most important things to know is that salted capers and anchovies—the ones that are conserved in salt rather than pickled (for the capers) or oil-packed (for the anchovies)—are ideal here.

They are superior in flavor and texture, even though they require a tiny bit of extra preparation: Salt-packed capers and anchovies should be rinsed of any excess salt and soaked for a short time in water before using; soaked, salt-packed anchovies will also need to have their spines pulled out—once they're soaked, they should be a little more pliable and it will be easy. Start from the tail end and split the anchovy lengthways to reveal the spine, which can then be pulled out. (All this being said, if you can only find oil-packed anchovies, that's just fine, too.)

Photo by Emiko Davies

The ingredients are chopped together finely or blended or smashed with a mortar and pestle until you have a thick sauce. According to Nonna Genia, the indispensable cookbook of the Langhe area of Piedmont, everything is chopped together with a mezzaluna (to give you an idea of just how finely the ingredients need to be chopped, the original instructions that say this simple preparation takes one hour to make), then olive oil and a good pinch of salt is stirred in until it gains a saucy consistency.

Prepare the sauce a couple at least a couple of hours before serving to let the flavors mingle.

Do you have a favorite way to use (or make) salsa verde? Share with us in the comments!

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6 Comments

Angela P. April 25, 2016
This is my version of salsa verde. You'll love it,l I promise. Great for lamb and pulled pork.<br /> 2 cloves garlic, peeled<br /> 6 good quality anchovy fillets<br /> ¼ cup Persian small pickles with <br />tarragon (find them in Mediterranean <br />grocery stores or substitute with <br />cornichons) <br /> ¼ cup capers<br /> Handful fresh mint<br /> 1 bunch fresh basil<br /> 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley<br /> 1 tbsp Dijon mustard<br /> 3 tbsp red wine vinegar<br /> ½ cup extra virgin olive oil<br /> Salt and pepper to taste (go light<br />on the salt) <br />Pulse first 9 ingredients in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil and season to taste. Do not over blend, as the mixture should still have some chunkiness.<br />
 
Fin132 April 24, 2016
How long will this last in the frig? Can I freeze it?
 
Sharon April 25, 2016
I hate to admit it, but I made a version of this nearly a year ago and it's still good in the frig! I stored it in a round narrow bottle, which I sterilized first. The narrow bottle (the kind brined capers come in) decreased the surface area, allowing the oil to hermetically seal the contents. As long as you don't introduce your finger or a dirty utensil into the mix, it should keep for a very long time. I pulled it out last week and served it with a lamb shoulder roast. It was perfectly delicious! And I'm still alive.
 
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Emiko April 25, 2016
It will last a long time! If you don't think you'll use it up quickly, add a thin layer of olive oil over the top to 'seal' the sauce underneath.
 
Alisa P. April 24, 2016
That is exactly the way my Nonni made it. I don't use the anchovy anymore. But I add lemon zest for extra zing. Got that tip from Martha Stewart.
 
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Emiko April 25, 2016
Sounds lovely!