The Italian Salsa Verde is a sharp, piquant, salty and herby green sauce that will electrify your senses and leave them hysterical in anticipation of the next mouthful! Really!
To many, if not most, people on the other side of the Atlantic (the US side), salsa verde refers to the Mexican Salsa Verde, made with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro), tomatillos and green chillies. However, to those of us on this side, salsa verde refers to the Italian version, made with fresh parsley, capers, anchovies and vinegar.
Known as bagnet vert in Piedmont, it literally means green sauce, and traditionally, is used to accompany bollisto misto, or mixed boiled meat. However, its vibrancy in every aspect, makes it the perfect sauce for so much more.
Naturally, there are variations to this Piedmont recipe, depending on the cook, the family and the exact part of Piedmont it is made. It is the perfect sauce for making to one’s own taste.
How to use the Italian Salsa Verde
As an accompaniment to meat, not just boiled but also grilled. I almost always serve it with roast lamb, along with the more traditional mint sauce. Unless my mother in law is coming to dinner! Anchovies and lamb – you know they are an awesome match, don’t you? But I think this Easter, I shall serve it, without mentioning the word anchovies!
Here are other ways to enjoy this most tantalising of green sauces:
- as an accompaniment to fish, especially grilled (broiled) and barbecued
- as a dip for all sorts of vegetables, bread stick and crisps
- as a salad dressing
- fantastic stirred into potato salad, mixed in with salad cream or mayonnaise, or even, just on its own
- it makes a wonderful pizza sauce or topping too
- it makes a great topping for canapés
Italian Salsa Verde Recipe
Traditionally, this was all done with a mezzaluna, that curved, double handed knife. You can just about see it in the image below. These days though, the food processor makes that job so much easier, so feel free to go down that route.
While I always use the chopper to make pesto, and so many other sauces, when it comes to this Italian salsa verde, I have found that I much prefer the sauce handmade. Then you truly have a rough and ready, rustic sauce, so much more effective on your senses, with every single mouthful. It only takes me 10 minutes to do this, for the amount of ingredients here; less than 5 to do the parsley.
Bagnet vert ingredients
The Herb in Italian Salsa Verde
The overriding green, grassy notes and colour of the salsa verde should be that of parsley. If you use another herb, it should be a very small amount, as suggested in the recipe below. That second herb is usually basil, I have never seen mint used in it apart from in Jamie Oliver’s version. If you have had mint in yours in Italy, pray tell me in the comments below.
The Acid in Salsa Verde
Red wine vinegar is the most frequently used, and traditional acid of choice. In her iconic “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking", Marcella Hazan says,
“If you are going to use it for meat, make it with vinegar; if for fish, with lemon juice."
I have, for many years, been using white wine vinegar, because I much prefer the lighter taste of white to the fuller bodied red. It does rather solve the problem at Easter, when we have both lamb and fish!
Lemon juice works too, it adds tang, but the sauce feels like it’s missing something when I’ve gone down the lemon juice route. So room for experimenting, folks, because, you make it to your taste.
In his book “La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangier Bene” (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), first published in 1891, Pellegrino Artusi also only uses lemon juice, there is no mention of vinegar, in either his Salsa Verde or his Salsa di Capperi e Acciughe (Capers and Anchovy Sauce). In fact, the latter doesn’t have any acid at all, and he describes it as being rather
“hard on delicate stomachs” (translated).
Anchovies in the Italian Salsa Verde
Like the other Piedmont classic, bagna cauda, the anchovies play a big part in this sauce. However, I know many people who cannot stand the sight nor the smell, and leave these intimidating fish out. So by all means, do so, if you are an anchovy hater or a vegetarian, but, you will be missing an important part of the final flavour. Anchovies are full of umami notes.
However, here is a tip from Marcella Hazan’s book above:
if not using anchovies, you can use some cornichons (maybe 2 small ones) and half a dozen olives in brine instead.
Which probably explains the cornichons in Jamie’s recipe, despite the anchovies he uses.
Thickener in the Salsa Verde
Many, many recipes call for a little stale bread and/or a boiled egg yolk, to act as a thickener. Marcella Hazan doesn’t have either in hers, but she does use a little mustard, which is very interesting. It adds a touch of heat and lends even more sharpness to the final sauce. I don’t use any in mine.
I love adding both a mashed egg yolk, as well as some bread to mine. They just blend in so beautifully and add just a hint of creaminess to the whole piquant and briny constitution of the sauce.
Vegan Italian Salsa Verde
Super easy, just leave out the anchovies and the egg yolk.
How long will Salsa Verde keep?
Store it in a sterilised container, top with a little olive oil to cover the surface area. Then sore it in the fridge for up to a week.
Salsa Verde also freezes well. Place it in a freezer proof container, cover with clingfilm, touching the surface of the salsa verde, and freeze it for up to 3 months. Just let it thaw at room temperature before serving. Depending on the amount, a couple of hours should do.
All in all, the Italian Salsa Verde is yet another favourite of mine, and I have a small jar of it in my fridge that I shall be using up today to make up some potato salad.
There you have it, all the ins and outs of making Italian Salsa Verde at home. Have you tried it, and if you have, are you a fan?
And if you fancy the Mexican Salsa Verde, just click on the image below:
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