Parsley, or petroselinum sativum, has been around for over 2,000 years. A fact that might surprise some folks is that parsley is actually a member of the carrot family, and is one of the most nutritious of all herbs. There are basically two main types of parsley, which are widely used in an Italian kitchen. The tightly curled variety is most often used as a garnish, while the flat leaf type is used to season a wide variety of dishes. Parsley is often used combined with garlic as a base for many sauces.
Medicinal Properties: Parsley is often said to be a leafy multivitamin. A cup contains more beta carotene than a carrot, almost twice the vitamin C of an orange, more calcium than a cup of milk, and as much as twenty times as much iron as one serving of liver. It also is a good source of vitamins B1 and B2. Parsley is an herbal diuretic, and therefore is often used to help control high blood pressure.
It is said to treat urinary tract infections, aid digestion, as well as act as a mild sedative. Early Romans took advantage of the fact it is rich in chlorophyll, and ate fresh parsley as an after-orgy freshener to mask the smells of strongly flavored foods and too much alcohol. Since it is thought that large amounts of parsley can stimulate menstruation, women who are pregnant are told to avoid eating parsley in large quantities.
Growing And Storing Parsley: Parsley requires at least 6 hours of sun a day to grow well, but doesn’t generally grow well in intense heat. In fact, in warmer climates, parsley grows better with some afternoon shade. Harvest before the plant begins to flower, never cutting off more than one third of the plant at one time.
Parsley can be grown both from small transplants or seeds, and although it is really a biennial, it is usually treated as an annual. Parsley should be used fresh, since it is readily available, and loses much of it’s flavor dried. Store fresh parsley in the refrigerator, by wrapping in damp paper towels and then placing it in a plastic bag poked with a number of holes first.
Using Parsley In The Kitchen: Italian flat leaf parsley has the best flavor, and is used to flavor soups, sauces, stews, and adds a zesty flavor to salads. It melds well with seafood, as well as grilled or roasted meats. It is best to add parsley during the last few minutes of cooking, to retain the most flavor, as well as it’s bright green color.
Parsley’s flavor is so mild, you can use it as you would chopped fresh spinach. Fresh, washed and dried parsley can be deep fried for 5-10 seconds, and will retain it’s bright green flavor. This crisp, tasty treat makes an interesting, edible garnish. As stated above, the curly type of parsley is best suited to use as a garnish rather than to flavor Italian dishes.
Recipes Using Parsley: One of my favorite ways to use parsley is as a topping called Gremolata that is sprinkled over a dish just before serving. Gremolata is a traditional accompaniment to the Italian braised veal shank dish Ossobuco alla Milanese, although it is wonderful addition to any braised meat dish.
Typically, gremolata is a chopped herb condiment made of equal parts garlic, parsley, and lemon peel. Although it is a common accompaniment to meats, the citrus element in gremolata makes it a wonderful addition to seafood dishes as well.