The Mortar and Pestle: Salsa Italiana

Salsa Italiana
Makes about 2½ cups

This sauce goes well with any type of vegetable whether grilled, steamed, oven-roasted, or crudités; it is also good with simply prepared meat, chicken, and fish. The herbs can be varied; use what you have on hand or what’s in season–for example, tarragon or dill instead of sorrel, or watercress instead of arugula (also known as rocket).

  • One 1-inch-thick slice stale country bread, crusts removed
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup packed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1 generous cup loosely packed spinach or arugula leaves, or 1/2 cup sorrel leaves (if desired)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced sweet-tasting onion
  • 2 tablespoons herb vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fine-diced red bell pepper (if desired)
  • 1 hard-cooked egg, chopped fine or sieved (if desired)
  1. Soak the bread in about 1/2 cup water for 10 minutes, then squeeze most of the liquid from it. Pound the garlic in a large mortar and pestle until mashed. Add a large pinch of salt and a handful of the parsley, basil, and spinach, arugula, or sorrel and pound until the herbs are mashed into a thick paste, adding a handful at a time with a little oil if necessary, until all of the herbs have been added. (If you’re using a food processor, pulse to incorporate the ingredients.) Add the bread to the mortar or food processor. Pound or mix it with the herbs.
  2. Add the olive oil to the herbs as if making a mayonnaise, a few drops at a time, blending or pulsing to mix.
  3. When all the olive oil has been added, blend in the onion, vinegar, and capers. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste; add red pepper and egg if desired.
  4. Let stand at least 30 minutes at room temperature before using (a little olive oil will remain on top). Taste; adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature. Store any leftovers in a tightly covered glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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