Salsa Verde to Put on Everything

salsa verde

Don’t be fooled – it may look like pesto, but this is far from that rich and creamy pasta sauce. It’s on another level all together. Salsa verde is sharp and savoury. Zingy and fresh. And a dollop goes a long way to add brightness to anything from grilled meat or fish, sandwiches, salad or even pizza.

Known as bagnet vert or “green sauce” in Piemonte, salsa verde has parsley to thank for its grassy freshness and long-lasting color (it doesn’t oxidise like basil in pesto does, turning dark when exposed to the air). What gives it its special punch is the addition of a heaping spoonful or two of capers and anchovies. It’s a combination of ingredients that recall the ancient vie del sale, literally “streets of salt”, so named because they connected the landlocked valleys and hills of Piedmont to the sea at Liguria. Ligurian olive oil, salt and anchovies made their way through these ancient routes into the heart of Piedmont’s cuisine and can still be found in the region’s favourite sauces, like this one, and bagna caoda, a warm hearty sauce of garlic, olive oil and anchovies for dipping vegetable sticks into.

Salsa verde is most well known in Italy for being the number one condiment for bollito misto, a very traditional, rather old fashioned dish of boiled beef and offal, but there’s so much more that this sauce can do. In Piemonte, you’ll find the sauce used liberally as a topping on tomini (delicious rounds of soft cheese, a little similar to brie), halved, boiled eggs or crostini for antipasto.

Green potatoes

Toss a tablespoons of it through some steaming boiled new potatoes. Try it with roast lamb (by the way, anchovies and lamb — a match made in heaven). It turns a cheap, simple sandwich filling into a dish worth remembering. The Florentines know this well, and dollop it on their warm panini of stewed lampredotto (or abomasum tripe, their favourite kind of offal), it’s the defining dish of the Renaissance city. In Piedmont, their go-to panino in a flash is salsa verde with anchovies — it’s a perfect week day pantry meal if you’ve got a jar of homemade salsa verde in the fridge, waiting for such occasions.

It’s also great on pizza like the way they do it in the wonderful hole in the wall pizzeria, Grano, in southern Tuscany’s Porto Ercole, where they top pizza rossa (“red pizza”, in other words no cheese) with salted anchovies and bright blobs of salsa verde.

In traditional recipes from Piemonte, many add fresh breadcrumbs, soaked in red wine vinegar and even egg yolk or a whole boiled egg to thicken it. Probably one of the most important things to know is to use salted capers and anchovies – the ones that are conserved in salt rather than brine (for the capers) or oil (for the anchovies). They are superior in flavour and texture and even though they require a tiny bit of extra preparation, are worth it.

Salt-packed capers and anchovies should be rinsed of any excess salt and soaked for a short time in water before using. Soaked, salt-packed anchovies, will also need to have their spines pulled out – easy, as once soaked they should be a little more pliable. Start from the tail end, and split the anchovy lengthways to reveal the spine which can be pulled out.

The ingredients are chopped together finely or blended or smashed with a mortar and pestle until you have a thick sauce. According to Nonna Genia, the indispensable cookbook of the Langhe area of Piedmont, everything is chopped together with a mezzaluna (the original instructions that say this simple preparation takes one hour to make should give you an idea of how finely things need to be chopped), then olive oil and a good pinch of salt is stirred in until it gains a saucy consistency. Today, a stick blender does wonders. You can have this sauce ready in no time.

Pizza with salsa verde

Salsa verde

Ideally, you’ll want to prepare the sauce a couple hours before serving to let the flavours mingle. Any leftovers can be kept in a sterilised glass jar. It lasts well in the fridge for a couple of weeks in my experience, but if you’re not planning on using it soon, it’s a good idea to place the salsa verde in a very clean jar, smooth over the surface then carefully pour in a layer of olive oil to just cover and ‘seal’ the sauce. Place the lid on tightly and it should keep well a fair bit longer — some say months, but it never lasts that long in my house. See also this bagnet vert recipe from my friend Valeria for the version from Nonna Genia.

Makes about 200 ml or 1 cup

  • one salt-packed anchovy fillet (or 2 anchovy fillets preserved in oil)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 100 g (1 bunch) flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 10 basil leaves
  • 2 heaped tablespoons salted capers, rinsed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil

If using salt-packed capers and anchovies, first rinse the excess salt off them, then place in a bowl of fresh water to soak for about 15 minutes. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. The anchovy will need to have the spines removed – starting from the tail end, split the anchovy in two lengthways and pull out the spine. You will now have two fillets.

Blend the anchovies, garlic, herbs, capers and lemon juice together thoroughly with a food processor or stick blender (or chop finely together with a large kitchen knife or mezzaluna), add enough olive oil until you have a smooth, paste-like consistency. Taste for seasoning (important, as the salt packed capers and anchovies will already be quite salty) and add any salt and freshly cracked pepper as needed.


  1. Salsa verde goes with absolutely everything!

  2. Your brilliant descriptions, fabulous suggestions and interesting background stories would have persuaded me to put salsa verde on everything…. if I didn’t agree already!

  3. Frank says:

    I do love salsa verde. I can eat spoonfuls right out of the bowl… one of my (not so) guilty pleasures.

  4. Marina says:

    How long can i have this salsa in the fridge. Can i just make a bigger jar and use it time to time? Thank you

    • Emiko Davies says:

      This lasts quite well in the fridge — I would say a couple of weeks. Level off the surface with the back of a teaspoon and pour over a thin (2mm or so) layer of olive oil to cover the top when not in use. This is to avoid discolouration. Seal the lid on well and store in the fridge.

  5. Mathias Cronqvist says:

    I don’t know what this abomination is, but it’s not salsa verde. Salsa verde is always made from a tomatillo base. Anchovies? The f%ck?

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Hi it’s a shame you didn’t read the blog post because it’s all explained there but this ancient recipe for salsa verde comes from Piedmont in Italy’s far north (where you certainly won’t find a tomatillo to save your life but anchovies from Liguria are a staple). There, it’s known as bagnet vert in dialect but salsa verde in Italian is the more common name. It’s a classic of Italian cuisine, which is what this blog is all about. I think you may be looking for Mexican salsa verde, which is obviously not this. No need to use profanities here. Best, Emiko.

  6. Mearsey says:

    This was delicious swirled in pasta too.
    By the way, everybody in the family loves your Marmellata di Limoni, even when i make it (third time yesterday) – made with verdello lemons this time rather than sorrento lemons – still delicious!
    Thanks so much for your fabulous website and inspiration..

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