Parsley is the Rodney Dangerfield of herbs. It gets no respect. It’s because parsley is common and so we take it for granted. But apples are common too. And so are lemons and carrots, but people don’t pass these up like they do parsley. I’m just saying.
I always have parsley in my fridge (and also apples, lemons and carrots) because it’s these common ingredients that come in handy when you’re at a loss for what to cook.
But back to parsley, which at one time, back in the day, home cooks used quite a lot. We used it for a bouquet garni to season stew. And for soup and all sorts of casserole dishes. We’d put a snip or two of parsley here and there to fancy up any and every dish we served to company.
That is, until more exciting herbs and greens became commonplace in the market and everywhere you can think about when it comes to food. Before Food TV and glossy magazines published food photos rivaling paintings in the Louvre.
It was then that we abandoned parsley for more alluring arugula and mache, more fragrant rosemary and basil.
But Albert Stockli, knew best. This chef, who once headed the kitchen of New York’s Four Seasons Restaurant and was as famous as Wolfgang Puck or Daniel Bouloud, once called parsley “the jewel of herbs, both in the pot and on the plate.” French cooks even invented the verb persiller, in the herb’s honor; it means “to sprinkle with parsley.”
If you’ve never tasted Lamb Persillade, you’re missing something fabulously delicious. I’ve added a recipe for Rack of Lamb Persillade, but I realize that rack is more than a bit pricey. So use the persillade on thick shoulder chops or a boneless shoulder lamb or veal roast. Or on roasted cod or halibut or roasted, halved tomatoes (a good accompaniment for grilled burgers or chicken).
Persillade is but one example of actually using parsley as an ingredient, not just as a decorative item. Pesto is another. Most of us know about Genovese basil pesto, but the name pesto comes from the Italian verb “to pound” and can be made with any herb or green that you can pound using a mortar and pestle or, for more modern cooks, a food processor or just a good chef’s knife. Parsley pesto is a terrifically versatile dish. Use it as a sauce for pasta or as a dip for crudites. Or to marinate vegetables or meat for grilling.
If you have some parsley in the bin you can put it to good use and see what a difference it makes in simple everyday dishes like omelets, frittatas, potato salad, steamed rice, sliced tomatoes, corn bread or vinaigrette dressing. When we want a meatless dinner I sometimes cook pasta with breadcrumbs and parsley. It’s fast and easy, a simple supper for any season (and becomes a special, elegant dish if you serve it with white wine). Easy on the pocketbook too.
There are two kinds of parsley to buy, curly parsley, which is more familiar, and flat-leaf Italian parsley, which is more assertive tasting. Many food writers tend to prefer the flat-leaf variety. I say it mostly doesn’t matter. They are interchangeable in recipes. Wash the leaves carefully and dry them well before you keep them in the fridge. Whichever you choose, keep some on hand. You might be surprised how often you will use parsley once you come to regard it as a household staple.