What's The Difference Between Pesto And Salsa Verde?

Shoal of anchovies.

Pesto and salsa verde are both green sauces that contain olive oil, garlic, and salt, but that is where the similarities end. The two sauces taste completely different and are not as interchangeable as some people think.

Salsa verde and pesto are just two of many green sauces

Every cuisine has its own version of salsa verde (aka green sauce), which makes defining it tricky. The only things that unite them are the inclusion of herbs, oil, garlic, and usually some form of acidity.

Here in the UK, we have mint sauce, which is a tangy, refreshing condiment synonymous with roast lamb. The Spanish have their coriander-based mojo verde, which goes well with roast potatoes or grilled fish. In France, they have sauce verte with handfuls of herbs and plenty of mayonnaise, while the Argentinians are incredibly proud of their spicy chimichurri.

What we're most interested in, though, is the classic Italian-style salsa verde, so here we're taking a look under its bonnet to see how its recipe differs from that of traditional basil pesto.

The differences between salsa verde and pesto

Ingredient Pesto Salsa verde
Olive oil
Lemon juice

Anchovies are the defining ingredient in salsa verde

Freshly caught anchovies on a fishmonger's wet counter.
It's pretty clear when you look at the full list of ingredients that there are numerous differences between pesto and salsa verde. We love both of them, but they have completely different flavour profiles and are used in totally different ways too.

Although we strongly believe that pesto has numerous uses, including as a marinade, stuffing, and spread, there is no denying that it will forever be synonymous with pasta. Salsa verde, on the other hand, is more of a condiment and dipping sauce that is commonly used to accompany grilled meats and fish.

If you want to rustle up your own salsa verde, the recipe below is a good starting point.

Authentic salsa verde recipe

Olive oil 90g
Parsley 80g
Capers 30g
Anchovies 15g
Garlic x2 cloves
Lemon juice 30g
Salt to taste

How to make salsa verde

Soak the capers in cold water for 10 minutes to remove excess brininess, and dry with paper towels.

Add the capers, along with the lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, and parsley, to a food processor and pulse until you reach your preferred consistency. We like to keep our salsa chunky, but follow your own preferences.

Transfer everything to a mixing bowl and slowly stream in the olive oil, stirring constantly.

Season to taste with salt and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before serving.