Parsley to the Bitter End

May 19, 2010 in Antioxidants, Diabetic Menu Item, Home and Garden, Mediterranean, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Parsley grows easily – actually that’s an understatement; in my herb garden the curly leaf parsley can be redefined as a weed. My curly-leaf parsley variety is Petroselinum crispum. Petroselinum is derived from the Greek word ‘petros’ which means ‘stone,’ because parsley likes growing in rocky places. I’ve read some articles about parsley; its seeds are supposed to be covered with furamocoumarins, which prevent weed seeds from germinating, but supposedly also make it difficult for the parsley itself to germinate. My experience is that the parsley itself becomes the weed. There are stories about the difficulty of growing parsley – it is slow to germinate and germinates inconsistently, requiring between three and six weeks. I was out in the herb garden yesterday; it seems to me that most every parsley seed that fell to the ground last fall is now growing vigorously.

Why is parsley so often served as a garnish? My guess is that someone found an herb garden with just the right number of rocks like my herb garden, the parsley went crazy and the gardener was willing to sell it cheap. OK, maybe not. But it is relatively inexpensive. One other possibility is that it is known for making breath smell fresh.

The Italian or flat-leaf parsley, (Petroselinum crispum, Neapolitanum variety) is most often sold in markets and most often called for in recipes. The Italian variety is said to have a stronger flavor than the curly leaf. I don’t know if my flat-leaf parsley cross-pollinated or something strange like that, but the flavor is really quite strong. I generally use the flat-leaf in the winter and the curly leaf from my garden in the summer. If I remember to harvest enough in the fall, and freeze it, I’ll have curly in the winter too.

Parsley is not just to ‘pretty up’ the herb garden. Parsley adds the taste of bitter, one of the five tastes that our taste buds can distinguish. It’s often used to add a balance of flavor to savory (umami) meat dishes. Stimulating many different tastes provides recipes with a balance of flavors; that’s why often we taste recipes and can’t really put our finger on what the flavor is – it’s a combination of flavors. Often parsley is used with aromatic vegetables like garlic. Sautéing bitter parsley with garlic and/or onions makes a nice balance of flavors. When my family was growing up, I used to sprinkle parsley and onions over pot roasts; the long slow braising made a delicious flavor.

Parsley not only makes our breath fresh, but it’s also good for digestion. Parsley being a bitter herb (as in bitters) is historically known as an herb that will settle your stomach; help digestion; and stimulate appetite. The use of bitter herbs is virtually unknown in the US, but is more popular than ever in China and Europe. The French and Germans are two of the biggest consumers of bitter herbs.

Maybe our American tastes are maturing. Have you noticed that Americans have moved away from the domination of bland iceberg lettuce? We’ve moved toward lettuces like radicchio, arugula, kale, endive, mixed with romaine, and other lose leaf lettuces. All the lettuces are slightly to strongly bitter. I think that the change is not just because they are so much more nourishing than iceberg, but also because their flavors make a salad balanced and delicious.

When the taste buds for ‘bitter’ are stimulated the secretion of gastrin is begun, and that is the launch of a cascade of digestive actions. Gastrin is a hormone that regulates acid secretion in the stomach and smooth muscle activity. These are involved with a healthy digestive process.

We don’t usually eat more than a few teaspoons of chopped leaves added to a family-sized recipe, but what we do get is loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. (10 points for restraint: I made it nearly to the end, but then broke down – had to mention that parsley is nutritious; at least I didn’t list off the long list of nutrients).

If you need some parsley during the next few months, just knock on my door in the Mountain West. Or you may want to consider planting some in a pot or in your garden. I hope that you’ll have a new attitude toward the pretty but slightly bitter little herb.

Pecan Parsley Pesto with Wheat Berries

If your parsley is multiplying wildly like mine this is a delicious healthy way to take advantage of that – or just purchase it at the market; it’s fairly inexpensive. Your Mediterranean kitchen will be emitting aromas that will draw hungry appetites. If you want to make this recipe serve more, just add more wheat berries; it will work nicely with up to double the wheat berries. This recipe serves as a vegetable serving, starch serving, and a protein serving; and it has a very nice flavor. You can use the pesto with pasta, fish, breads, crackers or vegetables - be creative.

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked wheat berries or See directions below.

3 cups water if wheat berries are not already cooked.

¾ cup pecans

2 cups parsley (packed)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoon lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt, or as desired

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Directions:

If you don’t have cooked refrigerated or frozen wheat berries, cook 1 ¼ cup raw wheat berries in 3 cups water for about an hour to 1 ¼ hour, until desired tenderness. Toast pecans in a skillet, until just beginning to brown. Combine all ingredients except wheat berries in a food processor: process until smooth. Stir wheat berries and pesto together and carefully heat over a low heat in a saucepan or in a covered casserole dish in the microwave - the microwave is an easier method.

I used curly parsley from my garden.

I used curly parsley from my garden.

Rinsed and heavy stems removed.

Rinsed and heavy stems removed.

Pecans in a skillet.

Pecans in a skillet.

Lightly brown the pecans.

Lightly brown the pecans.

Gather the ingredients.

Gather the ingredients.

Process ingredients until smooth.

Process ingredients until smooth.

Stir and heat wheat berries and pesto.

Stir and heat wheat berries and pesto.

Side dish or main course - you choose.

Side dish or main course - you choose.

Store the leftover parsley in the refrigerator.

Store the leftover parsley in the refrigerator.