Parsley, the salt of the vegetable kingdom

I do a lot of interviews and that means press people are always asking me to state preferences that I would never think about in real life: what’s your favorite soup? Where’s your favorite toast? What’s your favorite kitchen implement? And the one question to rule them all, the one question that pops up in every single interview: what’s your favorite ingredient? I’ve never sat around arranging and re-arranging ingredients in a complicated but graphically appealing personal preference chart, but after getting this “What’s your favorite ingredient?” question five million times I’ve finally realized the answer. My favorite ingredient? The one I use more than any other? The one I use in almost every single dish? The one I find myself buying by the case every week? Parsley.

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Before I opened Dirt Candy, I’d never thought much about parsley. It was those little dried-up green bits sprinkled around a plate, the curly stalks stuck on top of terrible dishes of Italian food you used to eat when you flew on airplanes. It’s a non-entity, an un-vegetable, the least exciting herb in the Kingdom of Herbs and Spices. But it has become my go-to ingredient at Dirt Candy.

I love greens, and I love that herbaceous, green, springtime flavor that a lot of vegetables have. But sometimes, especially in winter, they don’t have it. They lack that green punch that I want to squeeze out of them. They’re not as green as I want them to be. The vegetables taste less, well, vegetabley. Enter parsley. Just as a spritz of citrus brightens flavors in a dish without overwhelming them, flat leaf parsley (not the curly kind) brightens that green flavor without overpowering the vegetable’s original taste. It’s the citrus of the herb world, a flavor enhancer that truly enhances, not replaces.

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I throw it into my stocks, stem and all, to add freshness. I blend it into oils all the time and I throw it on top of dishes, chopped up and sprinkled over them like confetti, sometimes hidden by sexier looking microgreens, but always adding its own unbeatable herbaceous brightness. I even throw it into a pan with some olive oil, along with garlic and onions, at the start of a dish, before getting down to serious cooking.

As long as it’s properly cleaned (because it’s an herb that often shows up looking like it’s been rolling around in the mud like a dog) parsley is the most versatile ingredient in my kitchen. Chefs often “finish” a dish with a dash of salt or one last bit of butter to tweak the flavor before it goes out to a table, sort of like that final blast of hairspray for a pageant competitor. To that arsenal, I’ve now added a last fistful of parsley, an herb that I never really thought about before, but that has become the underwear of my kitchen: I wouldn't dream of going anywhere without it.

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