Perfect Parsley

As a keen cook and owner of healthy meal delivery services, Jennifer is a year-round gardener. In her column about growing your own, she shares advice for growing and serving parsley.

I grew up on a farm in West Cork, which meant I was lucky to have a wild and free-range childhood. I can remember exploring the fields surrounding our home and noticing how quickly one of them became taken over by parsley – a few plants had gone to seed and in time, the entire field was swathed in a stunning mass of delicate, cloud-like flowers.

This piece of land, ‘Parsley Field’, was a funny shaped area nestled between the stream, our mum’s cheese making shed – also known as the cheese ‘palace’- and the chicken shed. And it was these chickens that provided me with the inspiration for one of my first culinary plans: I set to work with a hammer and chisel, (a sledge hammer was too heavy) and made a hole in the side of the chicken shed so they could escape into the field (which I’d made sure was escape proof).

During the day, the chickens would dine on fresh parsley and at night, they would head back through the hole to sleep off their feast. My hard work paid off – they were chickens we were growing for the table and as you can imagine, after their territory expansion, they were delicious. I counted 48 chickens in that field and they were the happiest (and tastiest) of hens!

Parsley doesn’t just taste good with chicken though, it spans the entire globe. It’s found in a plethora of diverse cuisines from middle eastern tabbouleh to Irish mashed potato.

The George Clooney of the herb world, parsley is handsome, it sets dishes alive and is adaptable, happily playing both star or supporting role depending on the recipe. An undeniable Oscar winner of the ingredient world.

When and where to grow:

Gather up your pots for this herb and pick it fresh for BBQs and Sunday roasts.

Sow seeds thinly from March to July directly into finely raked, warm, moist soil. If you want to get ahead, parsley can also be sown from February onwards in a propagator on a windowsill.  It grows best in well cultivated soil in a shady spot. The parsley will be ready to harvest from May all the way through to February. You can also plant them in pots and keep them inside on a window ledge.

 

How to sow seed:

Parsley seeds are very slow to germinate and they can take up to one month especially in cold, wet soils. Make sure the soil is warm before sowing seeds thinly in well prepared compost, twelve inches apart. When you have planted the seeds, lightly cover with more compost and keep moist. Once the seedlings start to come through, be brutal and thin them out, leaving a young plant for every 4-6 inch gap.

 

Harvesting:

Don’t start harvesting the plants until they have at least 8-10 leaves and then be sure to pick regularly to encourage a continual supply of foliage. Although fresh leaves have the best flavour, any extra can be whizzed up and frozen in ice cube trays or dried in the microwave.

A word of caution, if you don’t pick parsley regularly, it will go to seed, which can be either a good or a bad thing depending on just how much parsley you fancy growing!

Different types:

The most common type of parsley is curly-leaved. But another type to try is flat-leaved, also known as French parsley. Consider also the less common Hamburg parsley, but this is grown as a root vegetable.

How to use it:

Parsley has a very light scent and fresh taste so can be used in anything from soups to sauces. Widely used in middle eastern cuisine, it can also be used as a garnish on fish dishes and, of course, the main ingredient for classic parsley sauce.

Jennifer Irvine is author of The Diet for Food lovers (W&N, £20) and founder of Purepackage.com and Balancebox.com Contact her via her website www.jenniferirvine.org

See a recipe, Barley Couscous Tabbouleh from Jennifer’s book The Balanced Diet, available on Amazon