I planned to start this post by claiming that we always, always have a jar, glass, bunch, sprig or mazzeto of parsley in the kitchen. I then realised this would be a fat lie, because at this precise moment, the contents of the jar above is long gone, and there isn’t a sprig or a stem, not a single a leaf of the handsome, very green herb in our kitchen. There isn’t even a bedraggled, neglected, withered stalk lurking under the carrots and the other vegetable orphans in the bottom draw of the fridge. An absence of parsley! A rare thing, but a thing nonetheless.
We almost always have parsley in the kitchen. I wish I could tell you that it’s freshly picked from the garden, but we don’t have one, so it isn’t. It’s usually nice and perky though, because each day, when one or other of us goes to the market – we live virtually on top of the splendid, workday market in Testaccio, five minutes from an organic farmers market and have very erratic jobs, so we can go every day – we are given a handful of parsley.
Given, because unless you are in need of a great quantity, as I was the other day, you are usually given parsley, which is called prezzemelo, in Italy. Once you’ve finished the rest of your shopping, a few stalks of flat leaved parsley with broad, bright green leaves and gangly, plump legs will be tucked into your shopping bag. Depending on your loyalty to the stall, you might also be given other odori (which can be translated as aromatics) a carrot, a stick of celery, some basil, a branch of rosemary and sprig of mint or sage.
We almost always have parsley because we use it all the time. Whether it be the fragrant base of a soup, sauce, stuffing or stew, tucked in or under fish, chopped and stirred into cold sauces and salads or sprinkled, like green confetti, over this, that and the other.
Recently I have been using parsley even more than usual, hence the big bunch above. It all started with a wave and punch of nostalgia for watercress (which I adore) from the watercress farm near my parents house. Thoughts of watercress salad, watercress tucked in cold roast beef sandwiches and my mum’s watercress soup. Unfortunately for me, but reassuring in a world where you can find most things everywhere and even more disturbingly at anytime of year, watercress is not to be found in Rome.
In the absence of watercress and yearning a green summer soup, I debated the merits of rocket, basil, spinach and celery but finally settled on trying to make a parsley soup. Using my mum’s watercress soup as a template, I sautéed spring onion (the marvelous pink tinged spring onions (cipolle) from Tropea) and the plump parsley stalks in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Next some diced potato, a little dry white wine, which you evaporate away, some water (or stock if you like) and generous pinch of coarse salt. I stirred and then let the pan bubble and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
Then I added the parsley leaves and let the soup cook for another couple of minutes. Finally I passed the soup through the smallest holed circle of my mouli and checked the seasoning. If you don’t have a mouli – in which case you should think about getting one because they are invaluable for beautifully textured soups and sauces – a trusty stick blender will do a good job, even though the texture will not be as smooth and silky. Passing the soup through a sieve is long-winded option which creates a beautiful texture if you can be bothered
I let the soup cool to a summer appropriate temperature, which for me is tepid. I imagine this soup would also be excellent chilled, like a nice very cold vichyssoice. I did consider – alla Simon Hopkinson – about adding a little cream, but eventually decided against it in favour of some nice olive oil.
This soup may not have the peppery warmth of one made with watercress, but it’s really delicious nonetheless. It’s very green, beautifully simple, subtle but surprisingly full of flavour. The honest, fragrant goodness of the parsley is given body by the potatoes and gentle spring onion base notes, which in turn are given a certain creamyness by the butter and oil. The plump sweetness and the savory celery-like flavour of the fat parsley stalks really emerge in this soup. Best of all, it’s nice to see a beloved herb, maybe the most vital and reliable member of our kitchen chorus, taking center stage.
The nicest, freshest, most vibrantly green parsley you can find, a generous bunch with fat stalks and tender leaves.
I have made this soup three times now, twice with water and once with light chicken stock. I loved both. However the water, even though it doesn’t lend the same depth of flavour as the chicken stock, made a simpler, purer, soup, which allowed the parsley to really show off. I plan to try it with a light vegetable stock next week so I may well amend this paragraph. I know some people are funny about tepid and cold soup - not me – you can of course eat it warm.
2 – 4 servings
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 25g butter
- A bunch of spring onions, white and green roughly chopped or 2 large leeks, white part only sliced
- 1 large potato (about 4oog) peeled and roughly diced
- a very large bunch (about 300g) of flat leaved parsley – leaves separated from stems and stems coarsely chopped.
- 100ml dry white wine (optional)
- 1 litre filtered water or light chicken stock
Warm the oil and butter in a large based soup pan and then sweat the onion or leek and parsley stalks gently, uncovered for 20 minutes. Add the potato, stir and then the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate away and the add the water or stock, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for another 20 minutes.
Coarsely chop the parsley leaves and add them to the pan and simmer for two minutes.
Pass the soup through the mouli, fine sieve or blend with a stick blender, taste, adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature or chilled with a blob of yogurt or some olive oil and bread.