Gremolata is a healthy and flavor filled alternative to pesto or chimichurri. All three sauces have their uses and are great when used generously in home cooking.
What Is A Traditional Gremolata?
You may never have heard of this recipe before, but you may have made something similar at home nonetheless.
Gremolata is a traditional Italian ‘sauce’ with parsley, garlic and lemon zest. No other ingredients are required and you can see that this means it is more of a garnish than a sauce. It has evolved to include a little bit of lemon juice and even olive oil, however this moves into more of a pesto.
Not that there is anything wrong with mixing it all up a bit and getting a recipe that makes the most of your family meal time!
How To Make An Italian Gremolata
Gremolata is best made fresh, like within a few minutes of using, pick the parsley just before chopping as well.
The tip with gremolata is to chop the parsley in a rough and ragged way but to be incredibly fine and precise with slicing your raw garlic clove and lemon zest. I would recommend using a mandolin with a finger guard, check current price on amazon here, as you don’t want to crush the garlic but chunks are not great either.
A recipe for gremolata seems over the top as you have three ingredients. Ideally you are looking at one to two fresh garlic cloves for every 1/2 cup of fresh parsley leaves and the zest of 1-2 lemons. Wash and shake dry the parsley, roughly chop. I include the stalks as they are tasty and full of goodness. Slice the peeled garlic cloves and use the same slicer for your lemon, or just zest it. Mix together.
Gremolata goes well with heavier dishes as the grassy, herbaceous flavor of the parsley lifts any dish. The garlic will add a pungent kick that is countered by the citrus or the lemon zest. Make sure to buy unwaxed lemons as they will give a better zest.
Variations On The Traditional Gremolata Recipe
This is where the evolution of cooking comes into play. In our home we like to know a recipe and then just sort of make it our own. Here are just some ideas of variations.
Adding red peppers to the gremolata mix is a great way to add both color and flavor. Choose sweet peppers or hot chili peppers for extra kick. If you want to use the herb mix as more of a sauce than a garnish you can add a few tablespoons of olive oil and use as you would a pesto. Grated parmesan is another way to make your gremolata a bit more like a pesto, but without the olive oil it still works as a garnish.
Try using different herbs to parsley. Basil, Cilantro and Lemon Balm work well. If you are using mint leaves in your gremolata it sort of works, but the mint is a little too strong and over takes the other flavors. We mixed the mint with lovage and this gave a really nice saltiness that works very well.
How To Use Gremolata
Use the roughly chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest mix of gremolata on these dishes.
- A healthy dollop on steaks or lamp shanks
- stir the gremolata through freshly cooked pasta
- use with new potatoes and a little bit of butter and lemon juice
- with tabbouleh and couscous stirred through will still warm – but not hot.
- with a bean salad you can make it a really hearty side dish
- a few large spoonful’s on soup or stew
- warm a tin of chickpeas and stir the gremolata through for a side dish
- use in burgers with gherkins and tomatoes
- use as a garnish for chillis or even curries when you replace the parsley with cilantro
- gremolata works well with roast vegetables as a really chunky garnish
Gremolata Vs Pesto Differences & Uses
This is really for purists as you can mix around with your ingredients once you know the basics.
Gremolata is made from lemon zest, parsley and slices of raw garlic. Pesto is made from olive oil, basil, garlic, nuts and a hard cheese like parmesan. Gremolata is not a sauce in the sense that you wouldn’t be able to pour it but you can stir it through pasta before serving.
Gremolata is therefore a fat free version of a pesto sauce and variations include the addition of the lemon juice to help make it into more of a sauce and less of a garnish. Compared with pesto it is a very low calorie option. You can pick the parsley and make this up in around five minutes as your pasta is cooking, then stir it through before serving.
We use gremolata with different herbs and then can use it for various meals. From tabbouleh to new potatoes with a bit of lemon juice squeezed over for good measure. However gremolata will not keep in the fridge. Not even overnight. This is because the garlic slices go yellowish and are softened too much. The parsley gets darker patches quite quickly too. Pesto on the other hand will last for several weeks after you make it, as long as it is sealed in an airtight container in your refrigerator.
Gremolata Vs Chimichurri Differences & Uses
Some of the uses for chimichurri and gremolata are the same and we can be a little bit free and easy with ingredients, but what are the main differences?
Gremolata is traditionally made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Chimichurri is made from chopped parsley, chilis, white vinegar, olive oil and capers or anchovies.
Both are a great way to get more flavor into a meal, but chimichurri has olive oil added which gives it a more sauce like consistency. Gremolata is dry and used in meats or pasta in much the same way as chimichurri. There is an acidic nature to both but chimichurri has a more mature flavor due to the brine from the capers or anchovies that are added.
What Next & Further Reading
I hope that I have swayed you to trying your own gremolata recipes and using this ‘sauce’ as a garnish more often. Be as creative as you like and mix up your soft leaf herbs using basil, cilantro, lemon balm or even lovage in place of parsley.
- Growing Parsley Indoors All Year Round
- Herbs That Go Well With Beef
- Mint Vs Lemon Balm, Differences & Benefits