ZOGGHIU (Sicilian pesto/dressing made with garlic, parsley and mint)

Sicilians, unlike other Italians in different regions of Italy frequently use mint as a culinary herb.  And parsley in Italy is never used only as decoration, it is added for flavouring cooked and uncooked foods and is always eaten. Both of these herbs are included in Zogghiu.

Zogghiu is used in some parts of Sicily to dress grilled or boiled meats or fish. On this  occasion I used it on grilled squid and vegetables.


Being a pesto, it is therefore traditionally made in a mortar and pestle – peeled garlic, chopped parsley, mint and a pinch of salt are pounded in a mortar and once the solids have been mashed the amount of liquid (oil and vinegar) and seasoning is adjusted to make a dressing as thick as you want it. On this occasion I also had some grilled vegetables to accompany the grilled squid so I wanted a liquid sauce and plenty of it.

Zogghiu is an ancient recipe, thought to be Arab-Maltese in origins (from the word zejjet — to dress with oil) and although it is said to have originated in Palermo and first used by fisherman to dress grilled fish, some of my father’s relatives in Ragusa use it for grilled fish and meat and grilled or fried slices of zucchini and eggplants. However they refer to this sauce not as Zogghiu, but as agghiu, pitrisinu, ougghiu e minta – these are the ingredients in Sicilian — garlic, parsley, oil and mint. The Sicilian language is so very different to the Italian — aglio, prezzemolo, olio and menta (in the same order).

I sometimes use lemon juice (limone) rather than vinegar (but this is not traditional). For a lemon based sauce also suitable for grilled food see the recipe for Salmoriglio.

garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
parsley, 1 cup, cut finely
wine vinegar, 1 tablespoonful (or lemon juice)
mint, ¾ cup, cut finely (if fresh)
salt and pepper or chilli flakes, to taste
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup

If using a mortar and pestle:

Pound the garlic with a little salt. Add some herbs and pound some more. Continue to add a few ingredients at the time (but not the lemon juice or vinegar), till they have all been used and until you have a homogenous sauce. Add the vinegar and more oil if necessary.
For swiftness, I sometimes use my small food processor rather than a mortar and pestle – modern times!  Adapt instructions that you may have to suit your particular appliance. For example this is what I do with my food processor: Chop the parsley for 5-10 sec, scrape the bowl, remove and reserve. Chop the mint for 5-10 sec, scrape the bowl, remove and reserve. Chop the garlic, scrape the bowl, add the herbs and with the machine still running add the oil and lemon juice. Taste and season. Add the vinegar and more oil if necessary.