I ate at du Fermier in Trentham recently. The chef is Annie Smithers. It was a set menu and the first course was a pasta dish of orecchiete with broad beans and fresh peas with abundant shavings of parmigiano. This was followed by a loin of beef – char grilled and served with Salsa Agresto and some green beans as a side dish. We finished with a meringue, raspberries and fresh cream. All very enjoyable and uncomplicated as Annie’s cooking often is (and that is why I like it).
I asked the waiter about Salsa Agresto because it sounded Italian. It is.
Because I was not familiar with this salsa I went searching for some enlightenment. I found some information about this sauce on Italian websites (no measures, just a list of ingredients as many Italian recipes are, especially if they are ancient recipes). I also found references to Salsa D’Agresto.
The sauce is made with uva acerba (green grapes)- grapes that remain on the vine without ripening at the end of the season.
It was a sauce which dates pre-Renaissance time and went out of fashion because lemons became popular in cooking and superseded the use of green grape juice. The recipes suggested that the juice of the green grapes can be extracted by using a mouli or a juicer.
Walnuts and almonds are blanched to remove as much skin as possible. My sources indicated that there may have been more walnuts used than almonds in these sauces.
Onions, garlic and parsley and a few breadcrumbs are pounded together with the nuts. Add a bit of sugar, some chopped parsley and sufficient grape juice to make the amalgamated ingredients soft – like a paste.
Heat these ingredients and add a little broth as the sauce will thickened because the bread crumbs.
So I made this sauce according to the the ingredients and method I have written about above and the reliance of my memory of the flavours and texture of the Salsa Agresto from du Fermier .
However I used blanched almonds but not the walnuts and I used the nuts raw. I also added a little nutmeg as I thought that it’s inclusion would compliment the taste of the nuts. I did not have green grape juice so I used a dry white wine.
Days later I looked up the English translation of the Italian word agresto and it means verjuice. And then after having made my version of this sauce I discovered that Maggie Beer has written a recipe for Salsa Agresto.
Maggie is the queen of verjuice, so it is no surprise that she has a recipe. She uses basil – I did not. Her version for this sauce is not heated nor is it thinned with broth. Quite different recipes.
This is Maggie’s recipe:
Makes 700 ml
1 cup (160 g) almonds
1 cup (100 g) walnuts
2 cloves garlic
2¾ cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup firmly packed basil leaves
1½ teaspoons sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup (180 ml) extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup (180 ml) verjuice
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roast the almonds and walnuts on separate baking trays for about 5 minutes, shaking to prevent burning. Rub walnuts in a tea towel to remove bitter skins, then leave to cool. Blend the nuts, garlic, herbs, salt and 6 grinds of black pepper in a food processor with a little of the olive oil. With the motor running, slowly add the remaining oil and verjuice. The consistency should be like pesto. (If required, thin with more verjuice.)
I have no idea how close to the pre-Renaissance recipe my version of Salsa Agresto is or Maggie Beer’s recipe for that matter.
Calling it Salsa D’Agresto makes more sense grammatically – D’ = made from or of the ingredient agresto, i.e.verjuice.
I used my BBQ to make bistecca fiorentina – Florentine steak- and it was a suitable accompaniment for my version of Salsa D’Agresto.