The sauce is greener

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 backAnd 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.)

Green sauce

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.


Filed under food, olive oil, parsley, rachel eats Italy, sauces, summer food

52 responses to “The sauce is greener

  1. Green sauce or salsa verde is also so very very VERY good for you … just think of all the chlorophyl in the green leaves and the olive oil and raw garlic. Thank you for reminding us, Rachel, of the myriad accompaniments with salsa verde that render a meal even more charmingly delicious!

    • rachel

      In fact Green sauce should be available on prescription from the doctor – we’d all be healthier and happier. I forgot to mention how good it is with stuffed tomatoes. Looking forward to seeing you at the next gathering

  2. Rachel, I want to make this ASAP! Question: How long do you think it will last, in that jar, refrigerated? (Assuming I don’t eat it all in one sitting!)

    • rachel

      HI Rebekka,
      A week I’d say (and so does Marcella Hazan and I trust her). Make sure you scrape down the sauce from the sides of the jar (it discolors).

  3. “…and wrote most excellent words.” (My addendum to the green sauce epitaph.) “Argy-bargy” has got to be one of my favorite Britishisms. As for your sauce, I’m anxious to try it. Curious about the combination of basil and mint, but I trust you. Will give it a go.

    • rachel

      I like argy-bargy too,both the word and the argy-bargy itself. I too was curious about the combination! But then a friend reminded me about the ‘notes’ of mint in basil, I think they share some chemical compound and work well together. Anyway hope you try.

  4. I love Salsa Verde or Green Sauce or whatever you call it. It totally is a first aid kit for meals. Love your blog, too!

  5. A culinary first aid kit – I like it! I like Jess’s addendum too, very fitting. Luca just gets more gorgeous.

    • rachel

      Maybe we should market our culinary first aid kit – small tub of green sauce, another of mustard, nutmeg! Anymore suggestions.

  6. My mouth is watering.

  7. You are so right about green sauce- a knife is the tool to use. I’ve been making a ton of pesto lately, but you’ve inspired me to bring the green sauce back into rotation.

    • rachel

      I on the other hand have only make pesto once this year, it’s time I brought that back into (heavy) rotation. Green sauce and wild salmon?

  8. eastofedencook

    I need to travel more often! Here in California Salsa Verde is a tomatillo based salsa with onion, garlic and cilantro. Maybe I can just expand my culinary horizons by trying your recipe! Adore the flexibility in the recipe and what a great way to use the summer glut of herbs. A flavor packed alternative to pesto I will be trying soon!

    • rachel

      I like the sound of the Californian green sauce. It’s hard to find Cilantro in Rome though. Yes, it is a good way to use a glut of herbs and it keeps pretty well for a week in a jar in the fridge.

  9. Looks delicious, and I’m up for any excuse to mix my ingredients thoroughly and energetically with a fork.

  10. Eha

    Love your recipe! Indeed, it is already bookmarked! Have to admit having made it in my usual hurry in a blender more than once, but thoroughly take your point and shall do it ‘the long way’ next time!! The cod with lentils and green sauce hugely appeals both taste and health-wise! A huge ‘thank you’!!

  11. laura

    As you know, summer here this year is NOT treating us particularly well, but you certainly are! Thank you for another brilliant post and for the photos of your beautiful boy and of you with him. (Or perhaps I should say thank you to Stephen H.!)
    In re the garlic, I have adopted the method of grating it with my microplane (blessed tool) as I never could get the pieces of garlic small enough with the knife or even the mezzaluna and the squashing part was usually more messy and time-consuming than efficient.
    Am going to the market now to get lots of parsley and basil and, if I can, some mint, and salsa verde/green sauce will be on the menu today. Thank you.

    • rachel

      Yep, it has been a bloomin scorcher – Luca and I have been sweating and suffering and are now quite relieved to be back in much cooler climes in the UK. The microplane – brilliant idea I will be trying asap.

  12. Amy

    Oh boy, I wish I ate like you. Every time I eat salsa verde I feel like I have some culinary epiphany where I need to learn to make it well, and need to eat it often. Maybe one day it’ll catch up with me and I’ll spoon it over everything in sight at every meal. I’ll let you know if it ever comes to that (one has to hope). Thanks for sharing your recipe. Oh! And I loved all the exclamations in this post. It was so fun to read (!)

    • rachel

      I think I might make it sound better than it is! I also think (if you don’t mind me saying) you should eat green sauce more. Oh and thank you.

  13. This looks beautiful, and will no doubt make next week’s dinners more fabulous if I whip up a jar of this on Sunday. I can taste the brightness of the basil and mint through the screen, so I’m very happy you experimented!

  14. I have all the ingredients at hand you make your beautiful green sauce. Thanks for sharing.

  15. there are many green sauces in the world, but I think your chaotic tumble (with a hint of mint! wow!) must be tops.
    what a fun read

  16. I used to make green sauce a lot but it has been so long that I can’t even remember what we used to eat it with. I’ll need to rectify that sad state of affairs sharpish!

    • rachel

      I think you should! And may I suggest poached chicken (alla fergus Henderson) or Nigel S’s poached cod and lentils. Hope you are both well x

  17. Sauce green. I like that. From now on I shall no longer be eating Salsa Verde with all the attendent strictures and limitations, i shall be eating sauce green.

    Like you, I’m a lover of this sort of go-with-anything sauce – from lamb to pork to mackerel to squid or just mixed into risotto. A culinary every-(wo)man for our times.

    Great measurements btw, i’m a great believer in a fistful of this and a bunch of that. If nothing else, it indicates that exact quantities are not necessary and encourages experimentation. Now I’m starting to wonder if there is a SE Asian version I could throw together using Thai basil, Vietnamese mint and some fish sauce… The possibilities are endless!

    • rachel

      I am with you, we should both bombard the web with mentions, praise and news of this wonderful thing that is sauce green. With lamb! of course, I will try.
      As for your SE Asian version! Keep me informed – please.

  18. My husband is under the impression that he doesn’t care for anchovies, so what a perfect way to sneak them in!

    • rachel

      Start slowly though, One fillet maybe.
      I’m torn when I meet those who are under the impression they don’t like anchovies! Between pity (that they can’t appreciate this stupendous thing) and then happy greed as I strip the fillets from their pizza or salad nicoise and hum ‘more for me.’

  19. My wife absolutely refuses to eat anything savory unless it has something fresh and green sprinkled on it. I think I’ll surprise her with a batch of this – it contains ALL of the stuff that works its improvisational way in one way or another into our daily cooking. Great post. Ken

  20. Hi Rachel – I just discovered your lovely blog. I’ve read few posts and I’m already hooked! Beautiful!

  21. Italians are very particular about their culinary traditions, I agree, but then again so am I if a piece of square, cakey chocolate cake is disguised as and called a brownie, because it just isn’t! So, ok let us call it green sauce to do things correctly, but could you reach over a big spoonful please??? It looks delicious!

  22. Culinary first aid kit!!! You are so funny 🙂
    My mexican neighbors make salsa verde which is tomatillos
    and jalepenos…yummy too on many things!

    • rachel

      I love the sound of the mexican salsa verde, It sounds like a feisty, cheeky, spicy spoonful of sauce. I look forward to tasting it one day.

  23. Oh and as for the dog days…we have ’em badly here in Kentucky…. awful stuff.

  24. i want that plate of food and a coffee and a crossword so badly right now.

  25. Pingback: How to make the perfect salsa verde | Unión Europea Noticias

  26. Pingback: How to attain the perfect salsa verde - Natural Healing Power Of Herbs

  27. Barbara Kelly

    Hello Rachel
    Thank you for your many wonderful contributions to Cook in Saturday’s Guardian. I searched for this green sauce recipe as my husband and I enjoyed so much the pasta with braised beef ragu where you mentioned it. We had the pasta dish one day and the beef with this sauce the next. I would really like to serve this to some friends on Sunday, as you recommended, with the pasta as a first course and the beef with sauce as a second. I wonder if the beef course looks enough – it’s the first time these friends are coming. Could I serve some roasted vegetables perhaps? Courgettes, aubergines, peppers and onions for example? I don’t think they’d appreciate more carbs.
    Thank you in anticipation of your advice.Barbara.

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