For years when one thought of parsley you thought of the green sprig of curly stuff that you shoved aside on your plate. Rarely was it eaten unless it was incorporated in a sauce or somehow in a dish where it went unnoticed. The curly variety, as opposed to flat-leaf or Italian, was all you could find at your regular grocer. With the food scene emerging in the United States and gaining respect among European gourmets, we began to see Italian parsley used almost exclusively in the world of fine food. My old world grandparents grew it in their garden and often referred to the curly type as “American” parsley. Don’t get me wrong, it is still grown and available in the markets but it is not the preferred variety for cooks looking for maximum flavor.
That said, let’s focus this discussion on flat-leaf. I love it and grow it in abundance in my herb garden and in containers located right outside my kitchen. In ancient times parsley wreaths were used to ward off drunkenness–though proof of their efficacy in that capacity is scarce. Today, this slightly peppery, fresh flavored herb is used not only as a flavoring and garnish but has come into its own as a salad green. Fresh, it is mostly sold in bunches and should be chosen for its bright green leaves showing no signs of wilting. I store it in my refrigerator by cutting off an inch or so of stem and then standing it in a glass with about an inch of water. Some advise washing it, shaking off excess water, wrapping in paper towel and then placing it in a plastic bag. Since I am working to reduce my use of paper towels and plastic bags, I prefer my method. Either one does the job, however. It can be stored for up to a week. As a side note, it is an excellent source of vitamins A and D.
Let’s get on to the recipe. Leave it to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame to come up with such a simple but flavorful salad. You guessed it, she uses parsley as her greens and an uncomplicated dressing of lemon and olive oil. Since the 70’s, she has been a staunch advocate of using the freshest local ingredients and allowing them to shine without masking their natural flavor and goodness. This is also the Italian way of approaching food and its preparation which I subscribe to as well.
Recipe (from Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables)
1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
Olive oil (I recommend a good quality extra-virgin)
Parmesan (I recommend Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheeses or in this case, the queen)
- Remove the leaves from the parsley stems and wash. Dry completely using a salad spinner or clean towel.
- Just before serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
- Toss with a generous amount of finely grated Parmesan cheese.
- Season with salt and pepper and toss.
- Garnish with a few shavings of the Parmesan. Serve.
It can’t get any simpler than that and this salad is packed with flavor.
Just a few notes:
I mixed my olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a jar before I dressed the parsley. This allowed me to taste it and adjust the ratios as desired. When a dish is this simple, I think it increases the need to use the highest quality ingredients. For example, I reccomend using a high quality extra-virgin olive oil as you will notice the difference. The same goes for the Parmesan. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a remarkable product. Although pricey, you use less. The difference between that and what is found in the green can or already grated in a plastic tub, will blow your socks off! No joke!
I forgot to mention above that parsley is also available dried. It does not resemble the fresh in flavor, appearance or in any other way. Truthfully, I do not see any point at all in using it so my advise is save your money.
Please give our old friend parsley a new lease on life and try it as a salad green. Delicious, nutritious and easy to prepare. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget to let me know what you think! I am waiting to hear from you.