Magazine article The Spectator

Indispensable Herb

Magazine article The Spectator

Indispensable Herb

Article excerpt

Food for thought

I wonder if the old-fashioned curly-- leaved parsley may be making a comeback. This essentially British parsley, which we all knew and loved. was sent to Coventry some while ago and replaced, at least in the kitchens of fashionable, publicity-seeking chefs, by its Euro-equivalent, the French or Italian flat-leaved variety (illustrated below). Watch almost any cookery programme on television or read almost any recipe these days which calls for parsley, and it is the flat-leaved one which will be specified. One wonders what the British parsley did wrong to have been so ostracised. (Something similar has happened in the lettuce world, where Little Gem seems to have overwhelmed all other varieties.)

I know there are those who insist that flat-leaved parsley has a better flavour, or that it looks better, but this is, or should be, a matter of opinion. Instead we have been brainwashed into accepting that European is Best; and I admit to having succumbed to the advertising pressure myself. For the past two years we have grown Euro-parsley (the Italian has larger leaves than the French), and I have to report that the seed germinates more quickly than the British, and seems to grow more prolifically. But our crop was badly hit by frost, followed by a fall of snow, in January, and may not recover.

Evidence of a revival in the fortunes of the old curled parsley comes from two sources. Our local supermarket is selling it, grown in Spain, and in the French Alps, where I was skiing last month, it was the only variety available in the shops. This may have something to do with the curly-leaved parsley being hardier, though I have read that it is in fact less likely to survive a winter. Either way, it seems we are being encouraged to get more used to it again - and it is less expensive than the flat-leaved sort when bought by the bunch.

Part of the problem may be that the oldfashioned parsley is or was thought of as a garnish rather than as a herb to improve flavour in cooking. (The victors at ancient Greek games used to garnish themselves with parsley, in the form of garlands, though it is not known which variety they used.) But we can surely agree, putting nationalism aside, that one of the best things to do with any country's parsley is to combine it with a white sauce and serve it with white fish or boiled ham or the larger broad beans. …

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