Salsa verde — the Italian kind — is one of the great condiments. It’s a loose, spunkily seasoned slush of mixed herbs, olive oil and things like garlic, capers, anchovies, cornichons, mustard and vinegar. You get the idea.
Served with poached or steamed meat or fish, it is a classic condiment, as it is when slathered on a roll to enliven a Florentine tripe or some other sandwich (read all about that here). And it is nearly indispensable with cotechino, that excellent northern Italian sausage made of pork, lots of pork skin and an interesting spice mixture; the collagen in the skin makes the sausage stick to your lips, and the salsa verde helps loosen it. I say that facetiously: This is a good kind of stickiness.
Jackie and I had homemade cotechino for supper recently, and with the nice young arugula around at the moment, I thought I’d create a variation on salsa verde — one without the usual parsley and other herbs.
Now, when we eat arugula as a salad, I dress it minimally — oil, coarse salt and a tiny bit of lemon juice or vinegar, just a drop or two. If we’re going to eat raw greens, we want to taste them above all else. But salsa verde is defined by salty, vinegary and otherwise flavorful ingredients that can easily relegate lightweight greens to the background. Arugula, however, is not short on flavor, and it seems to put up quite a fight against all that competition.
When I put the cotechino up to steam (for something over an hour), I made the sauce. The quantities I used for it are those that work for me. Taste as you go; you may prefer more of this and less of that.
I’d previously soaked three salt-cured anchovies in water and then split and boned them with my fingers, generating a half dozen fillets. (If I’d used anchovies in oil, this would have been unnecessary.)
I put those six anchovy fillets in the workbowl of a food processor along with a good teaspoon of capers (rinsed and patted dry), a medium clove of garlic (peeled), 4 cornichons, a generous 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a few grinds of black pepper and 1/3 cup of my Sunday-best olive oil, maybe a little more.
I pulsed this to a coarse mash, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times, then added around two ounces of young, peppery arugula (about two handfuls; if you’re using older arugula, remove the tougher stems). I continued to pulse until the ingredients, while neither homogeneous nor smoothly pureed, formed a pestolike mush. I tasted and found that it needed a couple teaspoons of lemon juice and, believe it or not, a generous sprinkle of salt. I transferred it to a bowl and drizzled it with another tablespoon of olive oil, both to protect it from the air and to beautify it and its flavor.
It was excellent. Granted, with a mixed-herb salsa verde, you get different aromas as you eat — a hint of dill, a little sage, lots of parsley — but arugula just tastes so darned good. You could certainly taste it in this sauce. It’s a great alternative. And if you ditch all the salty, vinegary ingredients and use just oil, garlic and arugula (and perhaps some cheese and/or walnuts), you’ll get a delicious variation on pesto to toss with pasta.