Saturday, January 9, 2010

parsley root

One of my delights in cooking is experimenting with unusual ingredients and tastes. Ever since I heard that the roots of parsley (a close relative of carrots) could be eaten, I had to try them, but last year I could only manage enough for a small handful in a stew. This year I had a glut of parsley (I seem to be able to grow too much or not enough - I'd rather the former), and after harvesting it several times, the crop needed a severe culling. I'm using the roots conventional flat leaf parsley, which work ok, but there exists a (modern?) variety called hamburg parsley which is grown for it's roots.

So recipes using parsley root were needed, and Cathy came to the rescue with her new Italian cookery book.

Bartolomeo Scappi Opera dell'arte del cucinare 1570

"To prepare a thick soup of parsley root. Get parsley roots from the end of september to the end of march, that being their season. Scrape them and core them; wash them and parboil them in boiling water, from which you take them and put them in cold water. Weather you cut them up into pieces or beat them with knives is left optionally to you. Cook them in a broth that is not too salty. When they are done, you can mix in beaten eggs along with verjuice or else grated cheese. You can also serve them plain with their broth. If you want to cover boiled chickens with them, however, when their core is removed, cook them whole without cutting them up, the way the fennel above is done, and with the same ingredients as for the fennel."

So the recipe is fairly simple: scrape the skins off the roots with a paring knife, slice down the sides to remove the woody cores, wash then parboil. Place in cold water immediately after parboiling to stop cooking. Chop into pieces and cook in stock. Serve plain with broth or add grated cheese or verjuice and beaten eggs.

My roots were quite dirty so I scrubbed them first, a decision I regretted given how long it took - washing after scraping would probably have been quicker. Coring took ages, especially since many of the roots were quite small, but the cores are very woody, even when very small and aren't amenable to eating. Once this preparation was done, cooking was quite easy. I parboiled the roots for 5 minutes, and was fascinated to see the parsnip coloured roots change the water to carotene yellow. I strained these, then plunged them into cold water. I drained them and left them overnight in the fridge because it was getting late.

The next day I chopped the parsley root into small slivers and cooked the parsley root in vegetable stock because I wanted to make a vegetarian dish - I think meat broth would have been more likely to be used in Renaissance times, and a better flavour compliment. I used just enough fluid (2/3 commercial vegetable stock, 1/3 water) to cover the roots, brought it to the boil (30 min?), then simmered for approx 1hr. This mixture was then frozen as I wanted to serve it on a later date.

Later I defrosted the roots and boiled them for half until warm, half for another hour or two before serving. The flesh of the parsley root is quite sturdy - roots cooked for the shorter time es were about the same as those cooked for almost twice as long - I'm sure modern carrots would have disintegrated under those conditions. I served some roots plain in broth and some with grated Cheddar cheese and verjuice at the Krae Glas December Twilight Tourney and both were yummy.

On seasonality: The months mentioned by Scappi are September - March, which for the southern hemisphere equate to March to September, ie late autumn through to early spring. This reinforces the fact that Scappi was Italian (not in the Italian alps), Not England or Germany with nasty snow and frost, which would probably kill the parsley but rather more like the seasons here, with parsley seeding and dieing/diminishing over the summer from the heat. I think harvesting my roots in October was a little late - they were no fatter, and possibly a bit woodier than those culled in September.

This picture is a bit less flattering than the food looked - the once melted cheese has congealed into lumps - it's actually the leftovers.

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