When it comes to food, there’s nothing much more exciting than discovering a cuisine you’ve never tried before – or even just a particular flavor that’s new to you. But what’s almost as good is learning to love something you’d once written off; in my case, parsley.
Parsley is not the sexiest of herbs. It’s not as zesty and Mexican-minded as cilantro, not as anise-y and speaking mouthfuls of summer like basil, not as aromatic as mint or rosemary when you gently pinch it between your fingers, or as esoteric as sage. It’s quiet, often confused with cilantro or thought of as an inedible garnish (the curly version) served during a time when continental fare reigned and your beef came with the requisite baked or mashed potato, a medley of baby carrots and broccoli and, of course, the sprig of parsley. For me it was always “that herb” that had to go into a bouquet garni for a stock, or speckled onto my mother’s bland boiled potatoes. Its case was not helped by the fact that it’s related to one of the least exciting vegetables: celery. Ever present in the grocery store, it comes in big bundles for far less money than the other preciously packed herbs. So darn ordinary, parsley.
But recently at a dinner featuring Mediterranean flavors, parsley was all over the plates. While I’d always known it had a prominent place in that region’s cooking, I still hadn’t changed my opinion of it. But at this particular time, shredded loosely into a salad with a few other herbs, on the side with some radishes and goat cheese, embedded into the entrees themselves, I had a transformation. For the first time ever, parsley spoke to me. It spoke assertively, with notes of lemon, with the vibrant taste of earth and grass. It was sunny, summery, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
I went to my local QFC and bought one of those big boring bunches. I brought it home and, just like at the restaurant, chopped it up, mixed it with mint and basil and dressed it with a tangy citrus champagne vinaigrette.
I made a puree and an oil of it – in one preparation. This consisted of dropping the de-stemmed parsley for a few seconds into a pot of boiling water then immediately shocking it in a pot of cold water. Then, after squeezing as much water out of its leaves as possible – at this point it tasted surprisingly similar to spinach – in it went to the blender along with a good olive oil.
The resulting mixture was strained, creating a lovely puree to go atop a piece of cod. The remaining liquid – algae green in color, Easter-egg dye green – was the parsley oil. A pinch of salt brought out the parsley’s essence and made for herbaceous oil that was light yet wonderfully vegetal. Beautiful in the glass bottle I transferred it to, it now serves as a drizzle over a delicately-flavored fish, or a piece of bread and goat cheese, over a simple pasta dish of lemon and ricotta or a bowl of hummus. I have grand plans to incorporate it into some winter stews and tagines, and to buy new parsley to make a gremolata (parsely, lemon zest, garlic) for an Italian veal stew.
“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” sang Simon & Garfunkel. Now I get why, in those lyrics, its humble parsley that comes first.