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According to legend, parsley first germinated in the blood of Archemorus, an ancient character in Greek mythology. Archemorus means “forerunner of death” and hence, parsley and death became intertwined. From there it wasn’t a great leap to also associate it with evil. Subsequently, all sorts of superstitions arose about parsley and the devil. Virgins could not plant parsley for fear of being impregnated by Lucifer. Because parsley seeds took one month or more to germinate, it was posited that the seeds traveled to the devil and back multiple times before sprouting. (It actually has to do with parsley’s biochemistry and soil moisture). Finally, the male head of the household could only plant parsley on Good Friday, again due to Satan’s influences. Who would have figured that the benign king of diner-plate garnishes could have such a sordid history?
Demonic delusions aside, parsley is a biennial plant that originated in the Mediterranean. It was cultivated by man as early as the third century BC. In addition to its satanic connections, parsley was the source of numerous other superstitions as well, including an exhaustive list of medical claims. Virtually every disease or organ in the body could supposedly be affected by parsley. Probably the only claim that might have some merit is parsley’s effect on bad breath, possibly due to its high concentration of chlorophyll, which is alleged to possess odor absorbing properties.
Parsley has always been popular in European and Mediterranean cuisine. A favorite of King Henry VIII, he relished a parsley sauce on top of his roasted rabbit. It was introduced into the Americas in the 17th century and eventually became the most widely used herb in the US.
Although there are many varieties, the two most common are the curly and the flat-leaf or Italian parsley. The flat-leaf has a higher concentration of parsley’s essential oils and thus, stronger flavor. If your supermarket only has the curly, simply use a little extra. Both varieties are available year round. Parsley is high in vitamins A and C and also contains a plethora of minerals.
Parsley root is another variety of parsley prized for its parsnip looking but carrot/celery tasting root. Use the root as you would any root vegetable and the leaves as you would regular parsley.
Choose parsley with bright green leaves devoid of any signs of wilting. The best way to store parsley is to stand it in a tall, narrow, covered container with enough water to submerge the stems, and then refrigerate it. Much like keeping fresh cut flowers in water, this method will extend the life of your parsley beyond the usual one week limit. The less effective alternative is to wrap it in damp paper towels and then place it in a plastic bag in the fridge. You can freeze parsley but of course, at the cost of flavor loss. Wash your parsley thoroughly by repeatedly submerging it in a bowl of water, swishing it around, and changing the water until it runs clear. Then, dry it thoroughly before chopping. Dry herbs chop better than wet ones due the lubricating effects of water. Never use dried parsley from a jar. It doesn’t even taste close to the fresh. Sprinkle parsley on your food after it is cooked or very near the end of cooking for the freshest and brightest flavor.
Parsley is probably the most versatile herb on earth. It’s hard to think of an herb-friendly food that wouldn’t pair with parsley. Parsley is great in stews, soups, pasta dishes, rice, salad dressings, stuffings, herbed butter, and meatloaf to name a few. It is an essential ingredient in the classic bouquet garni, (along with thyme and bay leaves), which is used to flavor stocks and other preparations, as well as tabbouleh salad, and chimichurri sauce. And for a delicious new spin on its reputation as a hackneyed garnish, try fried parsley. Simply drop your parsley in hot oil for a few seconds until crisp. Finally a garnish you’ll want to eat. Here’s one of my favorite uses for parsley:
12 oz. linguini
Extra virgin olive oil as needed
1 small onion, chopped
Hot pepper flakes to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 10 oz. can Bumble Bee baby clams
1 8 oz. jar clam juice
2 dozen little neck clams, scrubbed and rinsed clean
Handful of chopped parsley
Cook the pasta until it’s slightly underdone. If it’s finished before the sauce, toss it in a bowl with olive oil to prevent sticking. As the pasta is cooking, sweat the onion, hot pepper flakes, salt and pepper in extra virgin olive oil until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and cook one minute more. Add the can of baby clams and their juice and the bottle of clam juice. Add the little neck clams, cover, and simmer until the clams fully open. I like to take the clams out as they open so the early birds don’t overcook and get tough while waiting for the stragglers. Of course any that refuse to open should be discarded. Once all the clams have opened, add the pasta and parsley to the sauce and heat for a minute to finish cooking the pasta. Assess for additional salt and pepper. Then add the whole clams and toss them with the pasta for a little bit to warm them back up. Serve with your favorite bread for dipping in the sauce.
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