For The Herb Companion, Spring, 2006
Copyright© Jim Long, 2006
I was sitting in a restaurant recently, when I overheard a conversation between a five year old boy and his mother. The boy asked, "Mummie, what's this green thing on my plate?"
I looked over to see what he was inquiring about and saw a plate of fried chicken nuggets. Next to that was a plate of half-eaten child's size pancakes and a glass of soda.
The mother said, "Oh, that's just parsley, it's for decoration, not something you eat."
Never mind it was the only fresh, healthy food on their plates. But to teach a child that parsley's not edible!
However, most people don't think much of parsley today. It's that little piece of green fluff on top of the grilled salmon. It's the green leaves scattered around sliced meats and cheeses on an appetizer tray. It is, in today's world, basically an herb that has been relegated to being just decoration.
But the Romans, and the Greeks before them, used parsley in great quantities and looked upon parsley as an essential herb, recognizing its individual flavor in foods. The Greeks held parsley in high esteem and made wreathes of it and used them in celebrations as gifts to the gods. The Romans looked upon parsley as important in keeping away drunkenness, and so, exotic salads of parsley with rose petals and violets were eaten at the great banquets to ward off inebriation.
Fresh parsley has a flavor of its own, which makes it useful in cooking, although dried parsley has virtually no flavor. Curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has pleasant flavor, but flat leaf, or Italian parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum) has an honest, more robust, flavor that is perfect in soups, salads, salad dressings, gremolatas and pestos.
Parsley is an excellent breath freshener, thanks to its high chlorophyl content. It is high in Vitamins A and C, and one cup of minced fresh parsley contains more beta-carotene than a large carrot, almost twice as much Vitamin C as an orange, more calcium than a cup of milk, and twenty times as much iron as one serving of liver.
It's easy to grow, but slow to germinate from seed. One old European myth says parsley seeds go nine times to the devil and back before germinating. In the community where I grew up, I was told to plant parsley seed in the sign of the moon; pour boiling water on the row, cuss it thoroughly and cover with soil, then, everyday go out and cuss it some more until it peeks through the soil. From those instructions you would think the someone was trying to germinate baby dragons from rocks instead of simple parsley plants!
Parsley is easy to grow. It likes a full day of sunshine, with moderate soil, or a planter on the patio, and requires very little care. The boiling water trick I learned from my childhood, is just a method for loosening the outer shell of the seed. The cussing and yelling probably doesn't do anything for the germination.
You can also speed up germination by soaking the seed for a day or two before planting. In some regions you can plant the seed in the fall and the freezing and thawing of winter will loosen the seeds so they can sprout.
A really simple method to speed germination is this: Put four or five parsley seeds in each compartment of an ice cube tray. Fill the tray with water and put it in the freezer for a week. Then, plant the ice cubes in a row. Germination will be much improved with no yelling or cussing required. Parsley is a biennial, which means it grows one year then goes to seed the next. The flavor of the leaves is good the first year, but turn bitter as the plant goes into flowering the second year. In other words, grow parsley as an annual for continuous leaves to use.
Gremolata is a chopped parsley seasoning, used somewhat like pesto, (which uses basil instead of parsley). Gremolata is chopped parsley with garlic, lemon zest, sometimes including olive oil. It is used for adding to the cook pot near the end of cooking for flavor, as an ingredient in soups. stews, as a topping for lamb, pork, chicken or fish.
Here's a basic Gremolata recipe:.
3 tablespoons chopped flat, Italian parsley, or 6-8 sprigs 2 garlic cloves 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest Freshly ground pepper Put ingredients in food processor and chop well. Try a parsley salad: 4 cups barely chopped parsley, 1/2 cup of halved ripe cherry tomatoes, some sliced radishes, a green onion diced fine and some fresh lemon juice squeezed over with a bit of olive oil and tossed well.
Parsley is full of flavor and vitamins and the next time you see it on your dinner plate, eat it for the great breath freshener it is. Grow it, cook with it and eat more parsley - it's actually good, and good for you!