Thursday, July 28, 2011

Parsley: An Uncommon Root

These intriguingly shaped little parsley roots were an unexpected find on a recent shopping expedition; although they were clearly labeled I was certain that they were immature parsnips. Seldom seen in American produce markets, parsley root is familiar to central European cooks who use it in soups and stews.

Long cultivated in the Mediterranean region, the parsley plant is a member of the large family of umbelliferae which includes carrots, celery, celeriac, caraway, chervil, cilantro and dill. So important was the plant to ancient Greek culture that coins were stamped with the image of the parsley leaf.

If you do come across parsley roots in the market, they may still have their edible leaves attached. You'll notice their resemblance to celery leaves, as the two are closely related. The ancient Greek name for parsley is selinon; the word is sometimes used to refer to both parsley and wild celery. The botanical term A. petroselinum literally means "rock parsley".

Young parsley roots may be thinly sliced and eaten raw in salads, or steamed briefly until tender and mashed with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Roast with your favorite root vegetables in the oven, or add to rustic vegetable soups such as minestrone or borscht.

Parsley roots begin to mature enough for harvesting in late summer, signaling the approach of fall. Unblemished, firm roots will keep well in the fridge for at least a few weeks. Those which have been stored longer will still be fine for cooking. Be sure to scrub roots well before using.