Parsley

March 5, 2009

It’s the most versatile herb in the kitchen and the most retro.  We keep thinking we’re too cool for it, but back it comes, never to be forgotten.  And did you know that the Romans used it as a breath freshener before orgies?

Now is it’s time.

Actually, any time is its time what with supermarkets, but now is the time to get your own seeds, bung them in a pot of compost and leave the pot on a windowsill to germinate. Then plant the seedlings out and you’ve got your very own crop.

Or if you’re too lazy for that, as I am, do what everyone else does. Buy a bunch down the corner shop. But please, please, don’t keep the parsley in a glass of water on your kitchen window. The water ends up green and smells vile  (though not as bad as daffodil water, that really does smell of sewers) and the parsley stems go soggy and the whole thing is absolutely disgusting. No. Don’t do that. Put the glass of water in your fridge, or wrap the fronds of parsley in foil or clingfilm and put them in the fridge like that. They’ll keep so much longer and stay crisp and fresh. After a week they shouldn’t be there anyway; you should have used them up.

Parsley works with everything. It goes in soups, stews, stocks,  and salads. If it’s cooked food, then the parsley is added right at the very end, so that it keeps its nutrients (vitamins C and A and iron) and the kitchen is full of that fresh scent, like beech woods after rain.

Put it in Tabbouleh. Put it in Italian Salsa Verde. Put it in Baba Ghanoush. Or best yet and most retro of all, put it in Parsley Sauce.

You remember parsley sauce, don’t you? You must have had it at school. It made the driest fishcake almost edible and you could drown the lumps in your mashed potato in the thick creamy stuff, flecked with pale green. I predict a big return through 2009 for parsley sauce: it’s nostalgic, reminiscent of the nursery, simple and cheap to make.

Here’s how. It’s basically like any white sauce, but the one essential thing is to totally pulverise the parsley before you add it in, so that any ghost of shape has been hammered out of it and it lies on your kitchen surface like damp aromatic moss.

Parsley Sauce (enough for about 4 people)
2 tbs butter
2 tbs plain flour
400ml milk
4tbs parsley, finely chopped (you can use some of the stalk too)
salt, pepper

Gently melt the butter over as low heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a pale yellow paste and let that heat for a minute or two. The flour gets cooked, but not browned.

Then the fun part. Begin to add the milk, little by little, slowly does it, stirring all the time. At some point, when the paste is becoming the consistency of sauce, you may want to move over from a spoon to a whisk.

Once all the milk is added, let the sauce come to the boil and simmer gently for up to 5 minutes, by which time it will be thick and creamy. If it’s too thick for pouring, add in a little more milk.

Take off the heat. Stir in the parsley, the salt and pepper, and then inundate those boiled potatoes.

NB. You can ring the changes with any or all of these: grated nutmeg; a teaspoon of Dijon mustard; lemon juice, just a dash; cream, about a tablespoonful.