Italian garnishes the easy way

24th June, 2014 - Posted by admin - Comments Off

Originally published in the Grass Valley Union on Sept 7, 2011

Gremolata over roast beef

A lot has been written about Italian cooking, (possibly the biggest understatement to ever come off my keyboard), and frankly, most of what’s been written makes it sound like a massive undertaking. Italian cuisine is mostly about attention to details: making sure that the ingredients are fresh and of good quality; not rushing each step. Basically, producing wonderful food that is difficult for modern people with regular lives.

There are a couple cheats that will provide that Italian flavor experience without breaking the time bank. The first is the aforementioned fresh ingredients – the better stuff you start with, the better the end product will be. The other is to look to the condiments.

There is a condiment that appears in restaurant kitchens everywhere, but most home cooks tend to over look it. It’s called gemolata and is a combination of parsley, lemon zest and garlic, with a little salt and pepper for flavor.

Gremolata is one of those combinations that seems to have appeared from thin air and now we can’t imagine not having this flavor combination. It’s also so easy to make, that even writing this column feels like a cheat. One of my favorite things about gremolata is that all three ingredients are available year round, which makes it perfect for punching up dishes no matter the time of year.

Gremolata was most likely created in the Milan area of Italy and is traditionally used as a finish for osso bucco and other rich dishes. For this particular meal, I put it on top of a pot roast that had been braised in red wine. It will also go with seafood, pork or chicken and is lovely on top of a risotto primavera. It’s also very interesting mixed into butter that’s then spread on garlic bread and toasted under the broiler.

Most of what’s written about gremotata specifies the use of flat leaf parsley. Personally, I find that to be a judgement call. Yes, flat leaf (or Italian) parsley is traditional, but as someone who keeps a lot of fresh herbs on hand, using curly leaf parsley means I don’t accidentally toss cilantro into my spaghetti sauce. Seriously, use what looks good and move on.

Variations on the theme include mint, rosemary and sage. In Milan itself, anchovy isĀ  often used as an ingredient. I leave that inclusion up to your personal taste bud.

The one non-negotiable ingredient is lemon zest. The zest is the thin yellow layer on the outside of the lemon. Do not grate in the white layer, it’s very bitter and will over run your entire dish.

I’ve mentioned this before: if you don’t have a lemon grater, go get one. Lemon zest is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Being able to easily add it to dishes will elevate your cooking in so many ways. Zesters can also be used to finely grate chocolate or Parmesan cheese, in case you have issues with one-use tools.

This can certainly be made in a food processor, and restaurants that make it by the bucket definitely use that method. But for home cooks, nothing beats a really sharp knife. Make a pile of parsley and garlic, zest the lemon over it, then start chopping. Keep going until everything is well mixed and starts to clump together.

Once you’re there, sprinkle it on top of any dishes you feel need some extra flair. Leftovers can be stored in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Makes about 6 tablespoons

2-3 cloves of garlic
Zest of one lemon

1. Wash and dry the parsley. Rough chop until you have about 4 tablespoons worth.
2. Add the garlic and lemon zest to the parsley.
3. Continue to chop until mixture is well blended and starting to clump together.

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Posted on: June 24, 2014

Filed under: Sides, Vegetarian

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