Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pimp my Cooking. No. 1 - Salsa Verde

 "...its name makes it sound more exotic than it actually is - a slightly more sophisticated version of our own classic accompaniment to lamb, good old mint sauce..."
I've been thinking about how people who read Gastrolad use the blog: is just for entertainment, out of curiosity, or do people actually use my recipes? I would hope it is the latter, as I do genuinely get a lot of pleasure from cooking and being creative in the kitchen. So I would encourage anyone reading the blog to give the recipes a shot and to hopefully get the same enjoyment and satisfaction out of them as I do.

To this end, I thought I would produce my own series of hints and tips in order to introduce people who perhaps haven't had the same level of interest in cooking as me to some of the easy ways they can jazz up their repertoire and impress friends and family. Hence pimp my cooking.

For those committed foodies, some of these will come as no surprise to you, but I hope that a few of the ideas might be new...and if they're not you can always be a smart arse and make your own suggestions at the bottom!

To start off, I've chosen a salsa verde; something nice and easy, but also something that's delicious, can be used in all manner of dishes and kept in the fridge for a good week or so. Salsa verde is essentially an Italian 'green sauce' of herbs, olive oil, lemon juice / vinegar, garlic, plus a few other bits and pieces - usually anchovies, capers and cornichons. In actual fact its name makes it sound more exotic than it actually is - a slightly more sophisticated version of our own classic accompaniment to lamb, good old mint sauce.

The great thing about a salsa verde is that as long as you've got the basic ingredients listed above you can be pretty creative as to what you want to add in or take out. I would say the only rule is to use soft herbs in your salsa, i.e. parsley, mint, basil, tarragon, chervil etc., and don't try to use the woodier stuff like thyme and rosemary, which aren't very well suited to this type of 'raw' sauce.

The following is how I like to make my own salsa, but please alter it according to your tastes or how bare the cupboard happens to be.

Salsa Verde:

The quantities here are fairly approximate, but should be enough to have plenty leftover for tomorrow.

1 bunch parsley
1 bunch mint
1 bunch tarragon
Juice of a lemon
Several good glugs of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
5-10 anchovy fillets (vary according to taste), roughly chopped
1 heaped tbsp capers, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

I find the best way to make your salsa verde is in a pestle and mortar (you'll need one of the really big granite ones), although a food processor, or knife, chopping board and bowl combination will do just as well. I'm going to write the recipe as if you were using a pestle and mortar, but it's a similar process using the other methods.

  1. Start off with the garlic, which needs to be ground into a paste using the pestle and mortar. It is important to do this thoroughly so that your salsa doesn't have great big lumps of garlic floating around in it. The best thing to do is to use a bit of coarse sea salt as an abrasive to help break down the garlic. 
  2. When this is done, turn your attention to the herbs, which need to be chopped before being added to the garlic. Now give this all a good grinding, before adding a good glug of olive oil. Don't add too much yet, but adding some now just helps to lubricate things. 
  3. Now add your capers and anchovies and give it another good mix / grind. 
  4. It's a good idea to taste the salsa now. It's probably pretty tasty, but missing a few important additions; the first of these is a bit of sharpness from the lemon juice (or white wine vinegar if you don't have it), the mustard (which I really like, but is not necessarily authentic), some salt and pepper and also some more olive oil. 
  5. By now the consistency should be pretty loose; like a thick vinaigrette and not a paste. Taste again, perhaps a few final tweaks and you're good to go.

    Now that you have your salsa, how should you use it? I think one of the best ways is with some simply grilled meat or fish: lamb, chicken, salmon, mackerel etc., etc. It's quite a piquant tasting sauce, so it's great to cut through the richness of a lamb chop or a piece of grilled salmon. It also goes well with cold meats, so how about making a salsa verde to go with those interminable rounds of leftovers you get at Christmas. I know it might not seem that seasonal, but a piece of cold roast turkey would look at lot more appealing with a blob of salsa verde on the fork too.

    But don't just restrict yourself to meat or fish; it also goes very well with all sorts of vegetables. In the dish pictured below I tossed some vegetables in olive oil and a few spoonfuls of salsa verde before roasting them for half an hour, stuck 4 salmon fillets on top, roasted the whole lot for another 10 or 12 minutes and hey presto, dinner is served! 

    If you want to get a bit more gourmet about things, the Italians have a famous feast day dish called bollito misto, which is a dish of mixed boiled meats served with lentils, salsa verde and mostarda di cremona (these are candied fruits preserved in mustard syrup and are well worth getting hold of if you can find them). While this might seem a bit ambitious for everyday cooking, a dish of Italian sausages (luganega or cotechino if you can find them) with green lentils and salsa verde is a delicious and easy supper dish. I have a recipe here on the blog for a dish of petit salé (cured pork with lentils), where a salsa verde would have gone down very well.

    You can shift this principle of a green sauce made with herbs from the Med to the Gulf of Thailand. A delicious sauce can be made in a similar fashion to go with grilled beef for example, but using coriander, mint, garlic, lime, fish sauce, ginger, sugar, chilli and maybe a bit of finely chopped lemongrass. A Thai style grilled beef salad dressed with a sauce like this would be delicious, 
    as would a similar dish made with grilled squid, shellfish, chicken or pork. Or how about an Indian flavoured one with coriander, mint, garlic, ginger, chilli, lime and some ground up coriander and cumin seeds, all mixed in with some plain yoghurt - would go very nicely with a tandoori grilled chicken. 

    As someone once said, the world is your salsa verde...

    So there we are, plenty of options for you to have a crack at, and if you have any suggestions of your own leave them below. Otherwise, happy cooking.


    1. Interesting and very useful to see how to make a number of different meals from a simple base. More ideas please.

    2. 'Pimp my cooking' is a great idea... I've noticed quite a few cookbooks now include suggestions for sauces that can be used in a number of ways, or recipes including leftovers from a larger main dish. Looking forward to reading the next post!

      ps thinking of italian sausages (I am now!)have you ever made your own? I got the Bocca di Lupo cook book recently which has a whole chapter on it, but haven't been brave enough to give them a try yet!

    3. Alas I haven't really made my own sausages, unless you count the times when was I working in a butcher / deli and cranked the handle of the sausage making machine while the butcher did the complicated stuff at the other end! Bacon is the limit of my charcuterie experiences at the moment - I have meant to try air drying a ham for years though, just never got round to it.

      Funnily enough I had a dish of Cotechino and Lentils at Bocca di Lupo a while ago - it was delicious, so maybe I should have a crack myself.