Friday, June 25, 2010

Focus: PARSLEY (Petroselinum)

"Parsley, the jewel of herbs, both in the pot and on the plate."  Albert Stockli

I would like to give a shout out for parsley, an underappreciated yet most flavorful and nutritious food.  Here in the American Midwest parsley has long been relegated to the role of visual accent.  You know what I mean - the little sprig, tucked next to the Salisbury steak.  Sometimes it is fresh and perky.  Sometimes a little droopy.  It is a common solution to the problem of how to add color to the plate when vegetables are lacking.   I just hate to think how much perfectly good parsley ends up in the food waste stream in this country.

So much more than a garnish
Parsley is so much more than a garnish.  It is the world's most popular herb and is used in soup, salad, vinaigrette, bread, dumplings or sauces (it is excellent in both cream and tomato based sauces).  It can be added to meat, dried bean, pasta, vegetable or egg dishes.  Many people are familiar with the popular Middle Eastern dish, tabouli, which contains lots of parsley.  Many Middle Eastern dishes use parsley more as a vegetable than an herb or seasoning.  Mark Bittman, cookbook author and NY Times food writer, says it is "impossible to overstate" the importance of parsley.

Two kinds - Curly and Italian
There are two main categories of parsley - curly leaf (P. crispum) and flat leaf, or Italian (P. neapolitanum).  Some say the Italian variety has a better or stronger flavor.  You can try both and decide for yourself.  You might decide you prefer Italian parsley for a fritatta or Middle Eastern dish and the curly for garnishing or chopping into soups, breads or sauces.  Much of the flavor of flat leaf parsley is in the stems - so don't throw those away.  Find a way to use them, in a stock if nothing else. Always use fresh parsley - it is widely available.  You might even consider trying to grow a pot at home.  Don't waste your money on dried parsley.

Bunch the parsley and snip off a little of the stems.  Put the bunch in a glass of water and store in the refrigerator, covered loosely with a plastic bag.  If you change the water every day and the parsley was fresh when you got it, it should keep for a week or more.

Classic parsley recipes 
Tip:  add a little salt when chopping parsley to keep it from sticking to the knife and cutting board.

If you were in Argentina and eating a grilled steak, chances are you would be offered a parsley based sauce called chimichurri.  I would call this the national sauce of Argentina.  It is delicious served with
roasted or grilled meat or seafood as well as cooked potatoes, vegetables, pasta or grains.  Just like basil pesto, there are many versions of this recipe.  Here is a link to a good basic one - different from the link in my Inspiration post on Tuesday this week.

Mix together 3 T finely chopped parsley, 1 t. finely chopped or grated lemon zest (that's the yellow part of the peel) and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves.
Sprinkle over anything grilled, pasta, roasted or braised meats or steamed vegetables.

Persillade (purr-see-odd)
Same as gremolata, but leave out the lemon zest   Use similarly to gremolata.

Parsley, walnut and lemon zest gremolata/ gremolata di prezzemolo e noce
1 cup packed Italian parsley leaves (mince until they turn paste-like)
1/4 cup minced (finely chopped) walnuts
1/2 t. grated lemon zest
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
Stir all ingredients until well blended
Stir into soup or sprinkle over steamed vegetables.  Add 1/4 cup olive oil and use as a pizza or pasta topping.

Parsley Frittata/ Frittata di prezzemolo
Beat 8 eggs well.  Add 1 cup packed chopped Italian parsley (Do not substitute curly parsley in this dish) and salt and pepper to taste. 

Heat about 4 T extra virgin olive oil in a heavy oven proof skillet over medium heat.  Pour in egg mixture.  Cook until bottom is slightly browned. (You can check by gently lifting the edge with a butter knife to peek underneath.)

After the eggs are mostly set - place under broiler to lightly brown the top.  Sprinkle on some parmesan or other favorite grating cheese if desired - before browning.

Tomorrow:  Tried and True:  Rice

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