Windowsill in Rome at about 4pm on Saturday 18th August – a dog day if ever there was one. From left to right, parsley, basil and (despite dastardly heat) a very perky mint plant.
I’ve recently rediscovered green sauce. I’ve reembraced this gloriously good, gorgeous green amalgam of herbs, capers, anchovies, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. This piquant, salty, fresh, grassy, sour, oily, punchy, slap of a sauce I’ve been spooning it over (almost) everything. I’ve been eating it straight from the jar. I’m considering tucking a small tub of it in my handbag, a culinary first aid kit so to speak, in case I encounter any comestible blandness that needs remedying. I’ve decided upon my epitaph: She – after experimentation and sound advice – made a good green sauce.
I used to call my green sauce by its Italian name, Salsa verde, which literally translated means sauce green. ‘This is sauce green madam, with tongue of veal’ declared the waiter at the Trattoria near Ferrara as he presented me with my lingua con salsa verde a few years back. And very good lingua it was too (tongue is a dish deserving of our culinary courage, one that – quite literally – sticks its tongue out at you and your squeamishness and whispers I dare you!) But it was the Salsa verde that really got me going, the chaotic tumble of parsley, capers, onion, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil.
Following that meal in Ferrara I started making Salsa Verde at home. At first I was faithful, reverential even, to the parsley-breadcrumb-onion-garlic-caper-anchovy-olive oil salsa I’d enjoyed so much. Then, feeling a little frisky about my salsa skills and with sound advice from Marcella Hazan, Giorgio Locatelli and Fergus Henderson, I began to experiment. I discovered that I’m partial to a little mint and basil alongside my parsley, that onion isn’t (always) necessary, nor for that matter are breadcrumbs, that a heavy hand with the anchovies is no bad thing.
I shared my Salsa Verde observations with a man from Milan over an aperitivo in an odd bar near Piazza Navona. I wish I hadn’t! He shook his head violently as I spoke of herbs other than parsley. He snorted when I suggested omitting the breadcrumbs and winced at the mention of garlic. ‘Non è Salsa Verde‘ he replied disapprovingly before saying something rude and clichéd about the English and their food. I wasn’t in the mood for gastronomic argy bargy with a possibly knowledgable but properly pompous old fart . ‘How right he was‘ I conceded ‘It wasn’t! It was green sauce.’
I’m never very precise when I make green sauce, a bunch of this, a handful of that, a bit more of that. But then last Saturday – the dog day – in an uncharacteristic fit of pedantry and a sleeping child I counted the leaves.. Well the basil and mint leaves at least! So I can confirm that to my big bunch of parsley I add 25 leaves of both basil and mint. And how big is big? Well once I’d pulled the parsley leaves from the stalks I had a bulging fistful of leaves! Is that helpful? Not really!
You can of course make you green sauce in a food processor! However, I’d like – if you don’t mind – to give you three good reasons to make your green sauce with a sharp knife. Firstly, because only by chopping will you achieve the chaotic, tumbling more-salad-than-sauce textual delight. A food processor – bless – can’t help but obliterate all the ingredients into a bit of a pulpy slurry. Secondly, for the stupendous heady aroma that pervades your kitchen when your knife hits the parsley, mint and basil. If I ever faint in your presence, please waft a board of chopped herbs under my nose. Thirdly, when chopped rather than blitzed, your green sauce will be greener.
Having chopped your herbs, do the same with your capers and anchovies. The capers can be very roughly chopped but you need to reduce the anchovies to a creamy consistency, almost a paste really. Almost. So some serious chopping and squashing with the edge of the knife is in order. Did I mention how much I like anchovies? Yes! Good. The garlic too needs reducing to a paste! I use a pestle and mortar. Meeting a nice chunk of caper in your sauce is one thing, a chunk of garlic is quite another!
Having chopped all the components, scrape them into a bowl, add the vinegar or lemon juice mix everything together thoroughly and energetically with a fork. Then add the olive oil in a thin stream – another pair of hands is useful here – beating the mixture sharply so as to amalgamate the oil with the other ingredients. You are looking for a loose still spoonable - but not runny or oily – consistency, a thick, gloopy, snooker-baize colored pond. Taste, season with black pepper and add a little more lemon juice or vinegar if you feel it needs it (the anchovies should negate any necessity for salt.)
Makes a jarful.
- a big bunch of flat leaved parsley (leaves only)
- 25 basil leaves
- 25 mint leaves
- 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
- a small tin of anchovy fillets (8 fillets)
- 2 tablespoons capers (in brine)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
- 200 ml extra virgin olive oil (you may not need it all)
- black pepper
Chop your herbs finely with a knife or mezzaluna.
Peel the garlic and then crush it in a pestle and mortar or with the back of a large knife before chopping it very finely.
Drain the capers and then chop them roughly. Chop the anchovy fillets.
In a bowl, mix together the herbs, garlic, capers, anchovy, lemon juice/vinegar and enough olive oil to reach a loose, still spoonable – but not runny or oily – consistency.
Taste, season with black pepper and add more vinegar or lemon if you think it needs it ( the anchovies should negate any necessity for salt.)
How to eat it
Straight from the jar. Otherwise with just about everything! Green sauce is outrageously social (some would say undiscriminating but they’re just jealous) and its companions know no bounds. It goes brilliantly with meat cooked in almost every manner! I adore it with poached chicken, pork chops and cold roast beef. The same for fish! Cod with lentils and green sauce please! It is terrific with potatoes, sliced tomatoes, steamed and raw vegetables, on sandwiches and with eggs (next to omelets, under poached) especially hard-boiled ones.
It was a good lunch. Hope summer is treating you well.