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Parsley is a herb not a garnish

"food that survives the ages is food that is good for us." Jill Dupleix

So says Jill Dupleix in her page of bon mots called Kitchen Wisdom, which substitutes as an introduction to her book Old Food, which I picked up recently for a mere three or four dollars in an op shop.

Both of those quotes are hers and there are more littered throughout the book as introductions to each chapter. Short sharp words of wisdom that express her food philosophy and her light, fun. sunny attitude to food.

I particularly liked the one about parsley though, even though it is not entirely original. I saw that English chef Fergus Henderson said something similar, so it's likely that others have as well

Actually the one thing I did find when I looked into parsley as an ingredient a little bit was how divided the chefs were on whether one should go for the flat or curly leafed variety. Some said quite definitely that curly had much more flavour and some were just as definite the other way. So go figure.

Personally I prefer the flat-leafed kind. I find the texture of the curly one too prickly - if that's the right word. And it's often gritty too. When you try and chop it, it bounces all over the place. But Fergus Henderson is a fan.

“It has substance. When chopped, it retains a bounce, a fluff, whereas flat-leaf parsley chops down to sharp shards that take over a dish in a swishing sort of way.” Fergus Henderson

Which seems a bit counter-intuitive because elsewhere he is very firm that parsley is an ingredient not a garnish and that means you need to taste it, if only in the background. I did see someone - possibly the River Cottage gang - say though that in order to avoid the prickliness you should blend it with other ingredients until it has smoothed into a purée. That might work.

It's all very odd in a way, because curly parsley was all I knew when I was young and living in England. In days gone by a sprig or two was often dobbed on top of supermarket packets of meat in an attempt to make it look enticing. Sometimes even plastic imitations were added.

There was nothing else. Now I would never buy it, and a bunch of parsley is an absolute must in the fridge, but it's continental parsley - the flat-leafed kind. I now see that the flat-leafed type is a Mediterranean thing, and so that is why it never made it to England. Maybe they thought it was too cold to grow it. Maybe it was because anything from 'The Continent" was suspicious. Times have changed though and now it is in plentiful supply. I do try to grow it but mine never flourishes as it should and it also has a tendency to bolt. I'm trying again though and hoping that this time it will do better. I probably don't fertilise it enough.

As for the disdain of parsley as a garnish well I often use it as a garnish. It's great for making dull looking food look fresher. And it's healthy too. Chew some to stop your breath smelling of garlic, or:

"you can chew some sprigs of fresh parsley every day instead of taking iron tablets." Beverley Sutherland Smith

When it comes to parsley as the star, well the most well-known dish is, of course, Tabbouleh and you will find endless recipes for it on the net. The one pictured here is from Cookie and Kate. Jill Dupleix has one in her book too, so she walks the talk re parsley.

The other famous dishes are parsley sauce which many would describe as bland but others describe as delicate and fresh. It's English and used with fish and with ham. But the French have a similar sauce too. Speaking of the French there is persillade, which is just parsley chopped with garlic and a tiny bit of vinegar, whilst the Italians have the very similar gremolata which is crunchier because it includes breadcrumbs, and tangier because it includes lemon zest. It's illustrated below in Jill Dupleix's Asparagus with crunchy gremolata crumbs. But both are fundamentally garnishes when you think about it. I don't know that you would call a sauce a garnish.

The Guardian offered their 10 best parsley recipes which included a tempting sounding recipe for Buttered parsley pilaf with peppered hake from Simon Hopkinson - but really I didn't do much research on this - other than to offer Iranian herb fritters from Yotam Ottolenghi.

But I will just say - parsley - can't do without it. When I wrote a cookbook for my sons called 7 Ingredients I Can't Do Without - parsley was one of them.

Back to Jill Dupleix's book Old Food. The subtitle is New ways with old favourites, which isn't quite a fair description of the book's contents. Yes there are versions of classics such as Chilli con carne, Osso bucco, Ratatouille, Hamburgers, and so on, but there are also totally new dishes, and also old dishes that have not been much tampered with. It was written after her very popular New Food - one of my very favourite cookbooks, but this one is strangely unattractive. And I'm not sure why. The photography is lavish and often beautiful although why they chose this particular dish for the cover I'm not sure, because you look at it and wonder what it is - Drunken peaches in case you are wondering - which are just peaches marinated in a rosé syrup and scattered with amaretti biscuits. Very simple and doubtless delicious but I really don't think the picture is tempting. It even looks mildly threatening.

Perhaps I didn't check it out with enough attention. Perhaps the photographs, however lush did not appeal. I don't know. I certainly enjoyed her aphorisms and many of them are worth repeating and using as posts from time to time. But for now I fear I shall just be returning it to a shelf and ignoring it for a while.


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