Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gremolata or Persillade or Pesto or Pistou

Basic Ingredients

It seems that many countries have the same basic idea for an herbed topping for foods. The idea is implemented and played upon, given names to fit the language and voila. Similar, I guess, to how my sisters and I could all look at a recipe, but once we took that recipe and made it ourselves, we each would end up with a different final product. It is so simple to take a recipe and change this, add that, leave out another thing and make it reflect our own taste and style.

Gremolata, freshly made
Somehow, somewhere through all of my cooking career, I "knew" about Gremolata. Enough so that when I brought up the subject with one of my daughters, I instinctively knew what the basic ingredients were, though I had not yet made it myself, to date. I knew that it had parsley, lemon zest and garlic. I "knew" it could have olive oil.

The same could be said of pesto. Up to just a few years ago I had never made pesto, though I knew the basic ingredients were basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan. Now I make it all the time, and use it extensively. Pesto can be made by coarsely chopping all the ingredients, or finely chopping the ingredients. It can be made by pounding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle, or it can be made by either pulsing or pureeing in a food processor. It all depends on your particular need.

My Favorite Pesto

My Favorite Pesto

Makes about 2 cups
2 cups basil leaves, packed into measure
2 cups Italian parsley, packed into measure
4 - 6 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all but olive oil in a food processor. Process until very finely ground, scraping down sides as needed. Drizzle in olive oil while processing, until well blended.

NOTES: This recipe is versatile, and many variations on the theme are in evidence these days. Pine nuts are very expensive, but walnuts make a perfect substitution. Some make pesto with young spinach leaves instead of basil. Some use no parsley at all.

The amount of garlic is completely “to taste”, though if raw garlic is a problem, chop it first and soak in a tablespoon of white vinegar for up to 10 minutes before using. Drain the garlic and add to the food processor.

If 2 cups of pesto is too much, but basil is in abundance, this recipe freezes perfectly. Divide into small containers and freeze until needed. I had so much basil and parsley growing last summer, I made 5 (2-cup) containers and froze them. I had plenty of wonderful pesto, redolent of summer, to keep me all winter long.


Another herb mixture is the French persillade. In French, "persil" means parsley, so it is no stretch to realize that a persillade contains parsley. Beyond that, I was unsure. It appears that the basic ingredients for a persillade are parsley and garlic, chopped together.

A sort of crossover is from Provence, France, bordering the Mediterranean to the south and Italy to the east. Pistou is a Pesto crossbreed. "Pistou", in the Provencal language means "pounded" so similarly to pesto, it is a pounded mixture of basil, garlic and olive oil, but without pine nuts. The cheese used in Pistou is dependent on the particular area and what is available, although because the Pistou is used as a garnish to the Soupe au Pistou (Pistou Soup, similar to Italy's Minestrone), the cheese should not be one that would become stringy in the hot liquid.

Argentinian chimichurri is yet another type of topping/sauce with the main ingredients of parsley and garlic with olive oil. They take it much farther and add a lot more ingredients, such as oregano and red wine vinegar to name only a few. Most of the Latin countries have some version of a chimichurri sauce. Guatemalan Chimichurri was most often used as a marinade for meat to be grilled instead of a topping for after cooking the meat.

Okay, that was a lot of information. I guess it just struck me how many countries have a similar thing, changing it to suit their need or availability of products. So, back to Gremolata. Gremolata is an underused condiment. Being so easy to make, I hope to spread the word a bit here and give some ideas. In its  basic form, Gremolata is parsley, lemon zest and garlic, chopped together. It can have other things added, depending on need, such as olive oil, or salt and pepper. It is best to have the parsley leaves dry when chopping, so be sure that they are washed well ahead and allowed to become completely dry before proceeding. Wash the lemon well before zesting. The garlic should be fresh, for the best flavor. Once garlic begins that little green sprout it becomes bitter; it might be okay for cooked foods but not when the fresh flavor is so important. The amounts can be completely up to the person making it. Yesterday I made some using about 3 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, 2 garlic cloves and the zest of one very small lemon. When I made Gremolata Walnut Pinwheels, I added salt and pepper and some olive oil so it would stick inside the puff pastry.
Gremolata Walnut Pinwheels

Gremolata Walnut Pinwheels

Makes approximately 70 pinwheels

¾ cup parsley, chopped
2 - 4 cloves of garlic, minced (use amount of garlic to taste)
3 - 4 tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 package Puff Pastry Sheets

Set the puff pastry sheets to thaw. This will take from 30 to 40 minutes, to thaw enough to open the sheets without breaking at the folds.

Combine the first 6 ingredients (the gremolata). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
When the pastry is thawed, first take one and roll it in only one direction, making a long piece about 18 inches long by the width of the original sheet. Spread half of the gremolata over the sheet. It will be quite sparse, but this is fine. Sprinkle ½ cup of the walnuts over the gremolata. Roll up from the long side, creating a long narrow roll. With a sharp knife, slice the roll into generous ¼-inch thick slices and lay them onto a baking sheet. If they are too distorted, press them slightly to a rounder shape, but they will round nicely in the oven.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are nicely golden.

NOTES: My daughter and I feel that these would serve as a lovely accompaniment to a nice soup such as a creamy tomato soup, or a salad, as well as an appetizer.

Freshly Chopped Gremolata
Beyond using in puff pastry though, Gremolata is a wonderfully fresh way to lift and brighten the flavors of vegetables. Sprinkle it on cooked green beans or asparagus to brighten flavors. Sprinkle it into a soup, much like the Pistou. Sprinkle it over fish or seafood dishes, bean dishes, eggs. It is great as is, but switch the parsley to mint and you have an instantly perfect condiment for lamb. 

Think up new ways to use it. It is too simple to not take advantage. Without adding olive oil  it has no calories to speak of. Mix up a batch of whatever combination suits your need or mood.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.