This Lazier-Than-Pesto Sauce Is Here to Zing Up Any Meal

June 28, 2018

For the twenty years I’ve been teaching people how to cook, most of my students have come to the cutting board with a misconception that they are somehow supposed to have some kitchen skills, like how to roast a chicken or the difference between a chop and a mince.

The idea that cooking is intuitive sets people up for disappointment. I don’t have jumping-out-of-an-airplane skills—I was never taught how to! That is not a thing my family did, and I don’t feel compelled to learn how to skydive. But if I practiced, had a good guide, and got over my fears, my guess is that it is a skill I could master. The same goes for cooking. That's why I opened Haven’s Kitchen, a cooking school and events space.

Most of the students at Haven's Kitchen do have a repertoire of dishes they know well and make often: pasta, eggs, the occasional grilled or roasted meat, and some sort of sautéed vegetable. They’re seeking tips and tricks to make their go-to meals tastier, more appealing, and more like what they eat when they dine out or order in.

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That’s where sauces come in.

A good sauce balances out a meal; it adds color, flavor, and texture. Sauce is the difference between a few strips of steak and avocado on a tortilla and a steak taco. It’s the difference between a bowl of black rice topped with some other things and a rice bowl.

It was important to me when I wrote my cookbook that sauces weren’t afterthoughts or side recipes. They needed a chapter of their own. We needed herby sauces, creamy sauces, briny and nutty and spicy sauces. We needed to include sauces that were best drizzled on meat or tossed with vegetables, that could be stirred into soups and curries. We needed bright orange sauces and deep green ones, too.

So I researched and taste tested, and what I learned on my sauce journey is that many sauces incorporate the same ingredient base: an herb, some sort of acid (usually citrus), and usually garlic. Herbs add a fresh, zippy, alive quality. Garlic adds sharpness. And zest brings brightness and acidity without changing consistency the way the juice would. From there, things get exciting with the addition of other ingredients you can customize, once you know the basics.

Three different gremolatas, used three different ways. Photo by Ty Mecham

Cue gremolata—the Milanese answer to Genovese pesto and Argentinian chimichurri: an herby, unblended sauce that cuts through heavier dishes and livens them up. Purist Gremolata is a golden ratio of garlic, lemon zest, and parsley, roughly minced together. But there are endless ways to play with that base to make a more drizzly sauce, or one that is nuttier, spicier, or more savory.

Your base will consist of garlic or a different allium (say, one scallion, one shallot, or half a white or yellow onion), the zest of a lemon or lime, a cup of chopped herbs (stick with cilantro or parsley), and enough oil to just cover the herb mixture. How much you add on top of that depends on the consistency you like. Use the three recipes below as guidelines, then keep experimenting with this new skill you just developed—no blender or special equipment needed.

This Could Use a Drizzle of Gremolata

How would you like to experiment with gremolata? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ttrockwood
  • Alison Cayne
    Alison Cayne
  • BakerRB
Founder, Haven's Kitchen, NYU adjunct, Mama


Ttrockwood July 2, 2018
LOVED the sesame cilantro gremolata! I swapped in lemon for the lime (not a fan of limes) and used a bit of some fresh tofu which made an awesome no cook easy summery meal. Also added it to my cucumbers and tomatoes side which was delicious too :)
I’ll certainly make these other versions soon too!
Alison C. June 29, 2018
yes! A sauce on hand is the best way to make dinner better, faster! Thanks for the comment!
BakerRB June 29, 2018
Love the idea of the hazelnut gremolata with sweet potato/butternut; planning to make that right away. I try to keep a couple sauces in the fridge ready to go and these are going into the rotation. I tend to use a spoonful of whatever's on hand as salad dressing starter.