A Cook’s Garden: Partial to parsley


Parsley from the Damrosch garden. (Barbara Damrosch)
Contributor November 14, 2012

Parsley is trouble for a gardener in springtime. You must plant brand-new seed if you want it to germinate, and even then, there’s a long wait. According to one old saying, parsley goes to the devil and back nine times before it sprouts. But wherever it’s been, it is certainly welcome when it finally appears.

My parsley bed is the best thing left in the garden. All summer long it flourished, rain or shine, even in sweltering weather. Now, in the seemingly endless medium-cold days of a mild late fall, it’s like a deep green forest, a champion crop.

Barbara Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.” View Archive

The parsley in my garden is the flat-leaf kind, which I prefer, especially if I am using it raw, because its texture is less scratchy than that of the curly variety. But curly parsley is more cold-hardy for winter use.

Basil, the joy of the summer garden, germinated effortlessly and was bountiful — before it bolted to seed and was then felled by the lightest touch of frost. So now I have parsley, enough of it to feed the county. How to use a parsley windfall is only difficult if you think of it as a garnish, a sprig tucked in next to the steak or sprinkled in green flecks over the edges of a white platter. I needed a role for fistfuls of parsley, baskets of parsley. So I tried to think of ways in which it could take over from where basil so unceremoniously left off.

Not surprisingly, basil shines in summery dishes such as pistou, a chunky soup I make with beans, summer squash and chopped tomatoes. There’s no reason why parsley couldn’t shine in that, but the tomatoes wouldn’t be fresh ones. A better choice is tapenade, a pungent mix of strong black olives, capers, garlic, olive oil and — usually — basil. A version I just made with parsley standing in was heartily received. Another success was a quiche in which parsley replaced spinach. Because the herb, like most greens, is reduced to a small amount when sauteed, I used a large bowlful, and I found that cooking took just enough edge off its strong flavor.

I plan to set a portable cold frame over my parsley plot before more severe weather sets in. I want to pick it as long as I can, creating parsley soups thickened with egg yolk, parsley pesto and maybe a parsley gratin. For one thing, parsley is known to be a superfood, with more than its share of vitamins, antioxidants and important minerals, especially iron. Right now, it seems like the perfect tonic with winter ahead. Under the cold frame, it should stay in usable shape until springtime, then begin to put out new growth as the days lengthen. That will be the end of it because it will then send up flower stalks and go to seed, just like the basil did, but in the second season of growth instead of the first.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep a bunch of basil in a tall jar of water on the kitchen windowsill, partly for snipping and partly as a reminder of the stores of greenery waiting outside, defying the cold.

Damrosch’s new book, “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook” will be published in March.

Tip of the week

Protect formal plantings of boxwood from winter storm breakage by loosely wrapping the plants with twine. Tie the string at the base, and form a spiral up and down the outside of the boxwood. Make a note to remove the string in March.

— Adrian Higgins

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