It takes an honest man or a pregnant woman to grow parsley well, depending on which superstition you subscribe to. Much of the lore surrounding parsley stems from this fact: it can be a fiend to grow successfully. The seeds take a month or more to germinate, spawning the theory that the seeds go to the devil and back seven times before they sprout.
Once grown, the plants are difficult to transplant because of their long taproots--parsley is in the carrot family. So, for thousands of years, it's been considered unlucky to move parsley. If you have the patience to let the plants come up from seed, though, you'll be bountifully rewarded. Parsley is a versatile and underestimated herb. Although treated as an annual, parsley planted in the spring will usually keep growing through the winter in zones 2-7. It will even survive a little of winter's worst: I've skidded down to the garden when the ground was covered with ice to pick fresh parsley for dinner. Plan on replanting parsley every spring; as a biennial, it goes to seed and dies the second year.
Plant the Italian flat-leaf parsley; it's generally preferred for cooking because it has more flavor. In a pinch, you can use the curly parsley, but otherwise, save it for garnish. Parsley will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator--store it cut-end down in a glass of water and cover the top loosely with a plastic bag, removing wilted stalks as they appear. If you have extra, the best way to preserve parsley is not by drying it--most of the flavor evaporates. Freeze it instead in resealable plastic bags.
Once used for everything from medicine to the main course, today parsley's most often a forlorn decoration, hanging around the plate after the meal is gone. Don't be afraid to make it an ingredient. England's most famous eater, Henry VIII, ate a parsley sauce with one of his favorite dishes: roast rabbit. You can create your own parsley sauce by combining parsley, garlic, olive oil and ricotta cheese in a food processor or blender and pulsing until ingredients are well mixed. You don't need a rabbit or the king's legendary appetite to enjoy it, just serve it hot or cold with scallops, shrimp, lobster or pasta.
If you're feeling adventurous, deep fry some parsley, branches and all. Dip it in a tempura-type batter and fry until golden brown and serve as an appetizer or snack.
Parsley blends well with mild-flavored vegetables. Try tossing it with cooked carrots and a little butter, or make one of my favorites, Parsley Potatoes.
10-15 small new potatoes, or 2 thickly sliced large potatoes
6-8 cloves garlic 1/4 cup butter(not margarine), melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Scrub potatoes and pat them dry. Smash the garlic cloves gently (not to smithereens) with the side of a large knife or a mallet to loosen the peel and release more flavor. Put potatoes and garlic in a 9"x 2" x 2" pan and pour the melted butter over the top. Sprinkle with parsley and salt; stir to coat potatoes the potatoes with parsley. Cover and bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning potatoes halfway through. The combination of the slightly peppery flavor of the parsley and nutty taste of the browned butter is delicious. You can spread the soft, cooked garlic on the potatoes as a topping--it's incredible. Try this with carrots and parsnips, too. This dish is a perfect complement to chicken--you can put it in the oven and let it cook while the chicken bakes.
If you're looking for a low-cal sauce for chicken or pasta, try this delicious green one.
1/4 cup chopped parsley, stems included
2 cups of steamed, peeled potatoes
1/4 teaspon salt
1 teaspoon fresh dill or basil, chopped
Puree all the ingredients and serve warm over grilled or broiled chicken or hot pasta. You can vary the recipe a bit by substituting green peas for the potatoes. Your mouth won't believe it's not eating fat. If your taste buds prefer a richer sauce, you can blend in some non-fat yogurt or sour cream, but try it without first.
Instead of lettuce or sprouts, top your next sandwich with a few springs of parsley. You'll be surprised at how it brightens the flavor. Plus, parsley is a nutritional powerhouse. By weight, it has one and one-half times as much vitamin C as an orange. It's also brimming with vitamin A, several B vitamins as well as iron and calcium. Maybe that's why ancient Greek warriors fed it to their horses and crowned victorious athletes with parsley wreaths.
Parsley has languished long enough: the next time your meal is garnished with parsley, eat it. Besides the health benefits, it's a terrific natural breath freshener, especially after that meal of roasted garlic and onion soup.
About the Author Syndicated cooking columnist Leigh Abernathy has been an avid gardener for over 10 years and has been writing about eating what she grows for over five. Her articles have served as the inspiration for everything from family activities to half-a-dozen junior high science fair projects and as research for a masters candidate's thesis. When not playing in her gardens or kitchen, she's working on her cookbook or coaching judo at a local college.