Parsley as primary

12 Apr No Comments Tamara Culinary

Parsley is usually in a supporting character role, and a predictable one at that. We are all very familiar with its competence at bringing a final pop of vibrancy to a dish, or adding color to monochromatic presentations, but when is the last time you had a dish with parsley as a primary ingredient? Can you name one that doesn’t start with a T and is a staple of the Middle East (Hint: tabouli)?

Parsley’s story usually ends as quickly as it began. Once you use the 2 tablespoons of parsley your recipe calls for, the rest languishes in the crisper drawer until it’s discovered two months later and there is nothing to do with it but throw it into the compost bin–if you are lucky enough to have a compost bin or compost pick-up service–or into the trashbin/garbage disposal if you’re not.

And that’s usually the predictable end of the line for parsley.

However, here in the Sierra Nevada foothills parsley grows like crazy, particularly this time of year. Using it for the occasional garnish or in recipes that call for a mere two tablespoons are wholly inadequate in helping me get through the pounds of parsley I am harvesting every few days just to keep it from taking over my vegetable bed.

So I set out on a mission to track down recipes that use up a lot of parsley. In the process I found that certain cuisines tend to use it a lot more than others, and not surprisingly, they tended to be cuisines that come from Mediterranean growing climates, similar to ours.
And not that I like to promote eating specific foods to ward off particular diseases (I tend to think that eating varied and nutritious meals, shared with people you love, is the best preventative), it was interesting to read that parsley has some strongly beneficial nutritional properties, such as being very high in vitamins C, B12, K and A. It also has high levels of myricetin, which has been shown to possibly lower blood sugars as well as decrease insulin resistance and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-hyperlipidemia effects. And don’t forget its traditional use as a remedy for halitosis.


So if you find yourself with a huge bunch of parsley left over from another recipe, or that gorgeous emerald green mound of parsley at the farmer’s market is calling out to you, or as in my case, a parsley plant is threatening to take over your vegetable bed, here are a few recipes to keep in your repertoire:


Parsley Pesto with Anchovies
Adapted from a recipe featured in SAVEUR issue #140


  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups packed parsley leaves
  • 2/3 cups capers, drained
  • 1 tbsp. packed oregano leaves (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Process oil, parsley, capers, oregano, vinegar or lemon juice, chile flakes, anchovies and garlic in a food processor until a smooth sauce forms; season with salt and pepper.

This is great on grilled vegetables, chicken or fish, served with quinoa or rice to soak up even more of the pesto. I will often add more anchovies or crushed red pepper to taste. You can also stir it into vegetable soup or minestrone at the end to give the dish a final pop of flavor. In my experience this will last at least two weeks in the refrigerator, but YMMV.


One-Pot Chicken with Parsley and Egg-Lemon Sauce
From The Glorious Foods of Greece, by Diane Kochilas


  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • One 3 to 3 ½ lb. chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 ½ lbs. fresh flat-leaf parsley (yes, you read that right), stems removed and leaves finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • Juice of 2 large lemons


Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and brown the chicken. Stir in the parsley and reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough water to come about halfway up the contents of the pot (be careful and don’t add too much water or it will be more like soup). Cover and simmer until the chicken is very tender, about 1 ½ hours, adding water if necessary to prevent sticking. There should always be liquid in the pot.

When the chicken is cooked, prepare the egg-lemon sauce: Beat the white until foamy and almost stiff. Whisk the yolk and lemon juice together. Fold the yolk-and-lemon mixture into the beaten white. Add a ladleful of the pot juices to the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. Pour this avgolemono into the pot, remove the pot from the heat, and tilt the pot so that the sauce is distributed evenly. Serve immediately.

I served this over quinoa but any grain would work just fine.


Parsley Pesto Cream

This means you can have fresh homemade pesto year-round, no need to wait until basil season.


  • 3 cups (tightly packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 lb. pasta


Combine the parsley, pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and with the machine on, drizzle in the oil, blending until the mixture is emulsified. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the cheese.

Cook the pasta you are using (I used spaghetti) in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.

Meanwhile, simmer 1 cup of heavy cream in a wide skillet over medium heat until it is reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes. Stir ½ cup of the pesto (reserve the rest for another day) into the reduced cream until it is fully incorporated. Add the cooked pasta to the pesto cream and toss to fully cover all of the pasta, adding pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. Garnish with a sprinkle of cheese and pine nuts.

I served this last night with a side of sugar snap peas and a salad. Yum!