The cold nights lately mean the growing season is winding down, or, in some places, really over. At our house, we take a look at what is left in the garden and make some hard choices about what to pull, dig, or pick and what to cover nightly, eat quickly, freeze, pickle, cellar, or give to the pigs. Our parsley this year was luxuriant. If it is frosted too many times, it will be tough. What to do with all that parsley?
We usually grow an Italian flat-leaved sort of parsley as a main crop and sometimes one plant of the curly kind for garnishing. We chop it up for dishes such as tabouli which will swallow up two cups tightly packed leaves for every two cups of bulgar (cooked and dried cracked wheat). We freeze some chopped parsley stored in little jars in the freezer. We have indulged in a parsley potato soup and still there is parsley.
This year I discovered a kind of parsley pesto, formally named “baguet,” which gives me a fresh, bright parsley flavor to use in the months ahead. The recipe I found, actually more a formula, is infinitely expandable or contractible because it is based on parts rather than specified cups. If you want, you can add other flavors or keep it simply all parsley.
Now, we have made pesto for years, and I have become more and more cavalier about it. We know pine nuts are the preferred nut in it, but they are pricey, so we use walnuts or pecans. Most pesto recipes say to add Parmesan and we might, but not until we are ready to use it. So we grind up the basil, nuts, garlic and olive oil, freeze it in baking pans and then cut it in pieces about as big as we usually need it (say a 2-inch square about 1 inch thick). We put the pieces loose in a plastic bag and put it back in the freezer. When we need it, we thaw it and add the Parmesan at that time or not, depending on what we are using it for. We definitely want Parmesan or romano if it is for a pasta sauce, but if I am stirring it into cottage cheese or sour cream to make a dip, then no.
I approached this parsley mix with the same attitude. I used whatever fairly oily nut we had, as long as it wasn’t peanuts, I left out the garlic in a couple of batches and used all onion instead, and added only enough oil to make a paste. The original recipe called for vinegar to promote preservation, and I think it adds a nice zip. Put some in the freezer and keep one jar in the fridge for using as you go along.
So far I have used this as I would pesto. I have stirred it into mayonnaise, sour cream, and cottage cheese to make dips for vegetables. I have spread it on bread instead of mayo for cucumber sandwiches. I stirred it into a summer squash soup and will try it on pasta soon. There is a way of baking chicken that calls for pesto spread on the chicken under the skin, then into the oven it goes, and this parsley stuff will work beautifully the same way. I am also going to try it on Italian bread in lieu of garlic butter and spread it on fish before baking. I plan to use it whenever I want parsley influence.
This recipe is most easily accomplished with a food processor or a blender. I had so much parsley to work with that I could be very fussy. I picked off only the best leaves and packed them as tightly into the measuring cup as I could. Don’t worry about the lack of specified quantity on the oil or vinegar. Process it and taste it as you go along and adjust it to your preference. You can’t go wrong. Store this in glass or plastic in the freezer, whatever is most convenient for you.
An e-mail came this week from someone looking for a Chesapeake Crab Cakes recipe, which had appeared earlier in this paper. As it turned out this week, we received from a lobsterman friend a spackle bucket full of crabs that we cooked and picked. It made me think: the heck with the Chesapeake, what about a good Maine crab cake? Someone have one? I hope it won’t have bread crumbs in it.
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Yields about a pint and a half
One part (1 cup) nuts
One to two parts (1 to 2 cups) parsley leaves picked off the stems
One part (1 cup) chopped onion
A clove or two of garlic (optional)
Oil (olive or vegetable) about a 1/4 cup to start
Vinegar (cider or wine) two or three tablespoons to start
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the nuts, parsley, onion (and garlic if you wish) into a food processor bowl, and process until you have a dry looking paste. Drizzle oil into the mixture gradually, continuing to process it until it smoothes out and has a spreading consistency. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, taste it and add more of any of them that you wish. Pack into small containers and refrigerate or freeze.