The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy that you don’t even need one. welcome to It’s That Simplea column where we talk you through the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed—like this riffable gremolata.
A DNA test will declare me 50% Italian, but until recently, parsley—the green stuff scattered atop many Italian dishes—had no place in my home. Most of the time, I considered it an unwelcome addition to the plate, an obligatory sprinkle atop tangles of pasta or slabs of chicken Parm. That is, until I start making gremolata, the herb Italian condiment I spoon over roasted veggies, potatoes, fish, and just about anything else.
Gremolata is traditionally made with just three ingredients: flat leaf parsley, fresh garlic and lemon zest. You finely chop the parsley, then mix it with grated garlic and lemon zest (which work together to tame the bitter herb into a gentle submission). Sprinkle it over rich and hearty dishes, like osso buco (Milanese braised veal shanks). Now it’s not every night that I’m braising veal, but I still make gremolata on the regular. The speckled green confetti adds a pop of bright, citrusy flavor to any dish, from proteins to pastas. It’s also mercifully quick to prepare: I’ll whip up a batch in the few minutes it takes salmon to sear or spaghetti to boil.
The version of gremolata that I make weekly diverges from tradition in one meaningful way. In addition to a pinch of salt, I add just enough olive oil and lemon juice to make the mixture slightly viscous and spoonable—more of a thick dressing than a dry sprinkle. Consider it a low-maintenance cousin to Italian salsa verde (which also includes briny capers and anchovies) and chimichurri (which features shallots, red wine vinegar, fresh chiles, and both cilantro and parsley).
And since I’ve already strayed from tradition, I often adapt my basic gremolata formula to use up any bundle of herbs wilting in my fridge. I’ll chop any soft but hardy herb for the base (like cilantro or mint), optionally pairing it with a more tender, delicate herb (like basil, dill, chives, or tarragon). I recently made a batch with cilantro and basil, which I paired with crisp-skinned roast chicken. You can also swap the citrus: Try an orange, Meyer lemon, or lime. A few suggested riffs:
- Cilantro + garlic + lime zest
- Mint + garlic + orange zest
- Parsley + basil + garlic + Meyer lemon zest
Once you’ve settled on your herb-citrus combination, the process is remarkably simple.
Here’s how to make gremolata:
The key to the best gremolata is to break down the fresh parsley to a very fine texture, so no one bite gets a big blast of bitterness. Be sure to seek out flat-leaf parsley, which has more flavor and is easier to chop than its curly counterpart.