Salsa Verde, a Piedmontese sauce to make your taste buds tingle
Salsa Verde is a Piedmontese sauce also known in local dialect as Bagnet Verd, or Bagnet Piedmontese. It’s officially recognised, being included in the list of I prodotti agroalimentari tradizionali piemontesi (P.A.T.).
It’s a very specific sauce which, like all the best recipes has many variations. But confusion arises because in both Italian and in Spanish ‘salsa verde’ also just means simply ‘green sauce’ – that is to say any herby, vegetable sauce which happens to be the colour green – anything from a guacamole to a pesto. In Mexico they make a sauce using tomatillos which is often referred to as salsa verde. That’s not what we’re talking about here.
In Italian another wonderful word for sauce is un intingolo – and a traditional salsa verde certainly tingles the taste buds, it’s wonderful stuff which adds something special to almost everything it touches.
The ingredients of a salsa verde
The main event in an official salsa verde is parsley, supported by garlic (some specify this should be sliced rather than crushed), olive oil and a little salt. Beyond that possible other contending ingredients are many and varied.
Most recipes include anchovies as a way of adding salt. Because I don’t like to have my fridge gummed up with sad-looking half-empty jars of tiny shrivelled fish I find it much more useful to keep Gentleman’s Relish (essentially anchovy butter) in the freezer and use at will. Obviously, if you include anchovies you won’t need quite so much salt.
Similarly, tinned sardines in oil also work well.
Breadcrumbs are very traditional – they add bulk to the sauce.
The breadcrumbs are usually soaked in vinegar. It can be red or white wine vinegar. I use myrtle vinegar which I make myself when I have it. When I don’t I use sherry vinegar as this gives a bit of depth and sweetness.
In Tuscany they make a version which substitutes the vinegar for lemon juice and zest. This results in a lighter, brighter flavour.
Herbs additional to parsley
Other herbs, in addition to the starring parsley can be coopted in as bit parts. Mint works well, and so do chives and basil.
Some people add blanched almonds to add a little sweetness and make the sauce creamier. If you include almonds, which contain oil, you won’t need quite so much oil. Depending on what I’m putting the sauce on, I often achieve the same taste-softening effect by scattering over some pistachios or hazelnuts.
You can also add a hard-boiled egg, or just the entire yolk. This gives a thicker, more velvety texture and a bit more flavour.
You can also add egg in a different guise by adding mayonnaise. You won’t, then, need quite so much oil or it will become over-rich.
Capers add a lot of flavour.
Mustard is always a faithful companion to meat, and it makes a good addition to this sauce. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers add mustard to their salsa verde, and so does the Saucy Dressings team.
Of course, you can make your salsa verde from a mix of any of the above. Locatelli, for example, uses a couple of bunches of parsley; a clove of garlic; half a dozen anchovy fillets; yolks of two hard-boiled eggs; a tablespoon each of white wine vinegar and dried breadcrumbs; and 200 ml of olive oil. Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers include parsley, basil, mint, garlic, capers, anchovies, red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard…and salt and pepper. Paul Leonard, head chef at Forest Side, uses parsley and chives, capers, anchovies, and a squeeze of lemon. For the Saucy Dressings melange see the recipe below.
The traditional and the Saucy Dressings’ ‘refreshed’ method
The traditional way
In the traditional method you would take a couple of bunches of parsley, washed, dried, and destalked, chop it, and mix together with a couple of cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt. All this crushing would be done in a pestle and mortar – and, indeed, this method will achieve a beautiful bright emerald sauce. Then you would slowly mix in oil in the same way that you make mayonnaise, adding drop by drop until you achieve the consistency you want – it can be rougher, more like a dip, almost a pâté; or more runny and refined, more of a sauce.
The Saucy Dressings’ quick way
In these miraculous days of electric helpers I have found that it’s possible to simply put all the ingredients into a small food processor and blitz in bursts. The result is not quite so fabulously in-your-face green as the lovingly pounded traditional version, but it has the valuable advantage of being ready in seconds.
Things to do with a salsa verde
- It was invented in the 19th century by cooks working in the court of King Charles Albert to give a bit of a boost to meat dishes…in particular a bollito (beef boiled with herbs), or a bollito misto (mixed cuts of meat).
- Bollito misto includes chicken, and Marco Torri, head chef at Novikov, serves poached chicken stuffed with black truffle with a salsa verde
- It goes well with boiled ox tongue
- Add to boiled potatoes….well, in fact almost anything boiled!
- In Tuscany they serve salsa verde with grilled meat
- It goes well with lamb
- It goes well with fish
- Use to top crostini , especially good with tomini (little soft white Italian cheeses)
- Include it in an anchovy sandwich
- With a little added mayonnaise, it makes a good prawn sandwich
- Paul Leonard, head chef of Forest Side in the Lake District, suggests sliced cherry tomatoes, with salsa verde on flatbread
- Spread over grilled baby gem, sprinkle over some pistachios
Refreshed recipe for Salsa Verde
Serves – 4
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 4 tbsps/¼ cup olive oil
- 50g/2 oz/couple of small bunches of parsley
- 20g/1 oz/handful of chives
- 1 tbsp capers
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ½ tsp Gentleman’s Relish…or a couple of salted anchovies
- Put the lot, except for the oil, in a small electric chopper.
- Blitz in bursts (you don’t want to let the chopper warm up too much because the heat will make the sauce turn a darker green) to chop initially, and then to slowly add in the oil. It may be anathema, but it is not a complete disaster if you just add the oil in with everything else.