Parsley may be the world's most popular fresh herb, but it isn't easy to grow at home. It's fickle and fussy. It takes forever to germinate. One year, it grows in profuse green tufts, and then for the next three years it turns yellow and spindly, or, more annoying, it grows like the clappers, and then bolts, producing a flower and seed-head within four weeks of your planting it. Parsley has its good years and its bad, but mostly, in Johannesburg's climate, it has bad years.
Many years ago I was discussing the growing of parsley with my godmother, who passed on an interesting Afrikaans saying about parsley, namely 'A bitter woman can't grow parsley'. (I wish I could remember the original words - help, anyone?)
This saying sprung to mind when I noticed two weeks ago, with suprise and satisfaction, that the single flat-leaf parsley seedling I planted in my little vegetable strip is having a bumper year. It's a huge, leafy, thigh-high ball, and so pungent you can smell the parsley fragrance from a metre away. What a relief: clearly, this year, I am not a bitter woman! Hah!
Anyway, I couldn't bear to see all this leafiness and flavour go to waste (severe July frosts are on their way) so I harvested most of the bush and dried it, in three batches, in the oven. Yes, I know dried parsley isn't known to have a long shelf-life, or to retain its pungency for more more than a few months, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.
I washed the parsley, dried it in a salad spinner, and then piled it on the middle rack of my fan-assisted oven, along with a few handfuls of celery leaves. I set the temperature to 100°C, and then turned off the heat (but left the fan on). Within 20 minutes most of the leaves were bone-dry, but still a livid green, and 30 minutes later the leaves were ready for crushing and crumbling. I ended up with about a cup-and-a-half of deeply fragrant, dark green crumbs, which I've put into a sealed container and stashed in a dark cupboard. I added a pinch of the mixture to a spag-bol sauce I made today, just before serving, and the fragrance and flavour was incredible; much more pronounced, in fact, than the flavour you normally get by adding big fresh stalks of parsley to stocks and stews. (Have you noticed how fugitive the flavour of fresh parsley is? It tastes brilliant when scattered fresh over a dish, but if you cook it for more than 30 seconds, the flavour all but vanishes.)
I'm looking forward to experimenting with my quick-dried parsley in the next few months. If it loses its zing, you will be the first to know (on tenterhooks, are you?)