Yesterday when I was driving to work, trying as always to evade the traffic as I zipped through the least filled streets in my racy MINI Cooper S (decked out in British Racing green paint and white racing stripes on the bonnet, natch), my mind was definitely not on either the road ahead or the tasks awaiting me at work. Actually, my mind was as far away from that as could be; I was dwelling on the delicious lunch I knew I would enjoy around noontime. This lunch, tucked carefully into a glass leftover container the night before and now safely stowed on the passenger seat next to me, was so good I knew it would be the highlight of my day. Talk about excitement!
That’s sort of an odd reaction to have to a meal, one I’m a little embarrassed to admit. That I can love food so much is a bit silly when you think about it, but then again I guess that’s why we’re all blogging about food and reading others’ food blogs, right? Other people get obsessed about sports – including the testosterone-laced fantasy football rage taking over my office this time of year – or are perhaps workaholics and don’t have the capacity to become obsessed with a hobby, but one of my passions is food. I have a lot of hobbies, that’s for sure, but this one is tipping the scales at number one at the moment.
So what, you ask, brought on this particular meal’s reverence? The answer is a simple fall root vegetable, the parsley root. Well, I must correct myself; it’s not really a simple vegetable in that it’s pretty rare in these parts – in all of my (nearly) 26 years and seven years of grocery shopping on my own, I have never seen a single bunch of these in any grocery store or farmer’s market, assuming I’ve kept my eyes wide enough open to notice. Yet out of nowhere in my humble local Shoprite grocery store, there sat a neat a pile of something I didn’t recognize during my lazy scan of the vegetable wall; I could scarcely believe my own eyes when I read the tag.
Parsley has a root?
I realize how dumb that question sounds now – and how dumb it sounded then as well. Moving on….
Impulsively, without even checking the price I grabbed a healthy looking bundle and stuffed them into my basket – without the slightest idea how to cook these, what recipe I’d use, or if the roots were even edible; it could have been decoration for all I knew. I’m always eager to try new ingredients and techniques in the kitchen; I swear, my culinary motto should be carpe cultri (“seize the knife” … I hope that doesn’t sound threatening or morbid!).
Never one to shy away from a challenge, when I got home I promptly started a Google search … and didn’t find any tempting recipes. Additionally, I didn’t find technical information beyond the fact you can roast, sauté, braise, or eat raw a parsley root – and that you should cook it within three days of buying it, not removing the leaves and stems from the root until you’re ready to cook them (unlike when you buy carrots with the leaves attached, which you should pull off right away to prevent the leaves from stealing more nutrients – life! – from the carrot itself). However, I did stumble upon some hilarious folklore about them that’s worth sharing.
From GlobalPsychics.com, a few superstitions and their origins: “1883 – ‘Parsley is an uncanny herb…’ it goes to the devil nine times and very often forgets to come back again.’ Parsley seed is long germinating coz ‘Goes to hell and back ‘fore sprouts.'” … “1983 – It’s surprising parsley still exists, because according to an old-wives’ tale only the wicked can grow it.” (an aside… I was born in 1983 and used to hate the flavor of parsley – and it’s actually not my favorite spice even today … hmm, coincidence??) … “1873 – It is the belief of the peasantry in this part of the country (S.Hants),that it is very unlucky to give parsley.” … 1954 – A Swansea friend will not give a (parsley) root away as doing so brings bad luck.”
Needless to say, I’m really amazed I not only ended up loving this vegetable but haven’t experienced any minor or major calamity since eating it, either! This coming from the queen of all klutzes….
Anyway, so back to what I did with this mysterious parsley root. I ended up finding a recipe from the new November 2009 issue of Food & Wine. Despite my recent unpleasant encounter with a misguided F&W recipe for sweet potato gnocchi, I couldn’t pass up their Striped Bass with Sweet Carrots and Cider Glaze. I figured I could use just one carrot and substitute the rest with the parsley root, throw in some chopped parsley leaves, and use tilapia instead of striped bass since that was the fish I had on hand. Finally, a plan!
Miraculously, the recipe was easy to follow and turned out spectacularly! I modified the original flavor profile, but to the betterment of it, in my opinion. F&W had called out for half the cider reduction to be composed of cider vinegar, but that seemed much too strong for my palette. Other than than that, it was a relatively straightforward dinner – and it smelled wonderful throughout. I could hardly wait to eat it; honestly, I barely got that header photo taken before my fork and I attacked that plate with such ferocity I haven’t experienced in quite some time – a ferocity, in fact, that I barely kept in check at lunchtime the following day. I had to act ladylike at work, naturally… But I tell you, I was excited to devour round two of this meal from the moment I left my apartment that morning until the leftover dish was radiating microwaved heat atop my laminate work desk, beckoning me and my fork forward once again….
That night, I actually emailed my mom a photo of my dinner because I was so excited at the result – and to share this fascinating new vegetable with her. In fact, this is how I explained the taste of parsley root to her: “It’s almost as if a parsnip swallowed a bunch of parsley but managed not to get any leaves stuck in between its teeth. Pretty rad.” And that, my friends, just about sums up this vegetable.
Please enjoy this recipe; it’s really worth making, and a quick one, too – perfect for a weeknight meal. I hope the next time you run into a mysterious vegetable in your grocery store, you take it home and end up cooking a meal you can’t get out of your head, too!
Tilapia with cider-glazed parsley root and carrots
Even though you use two pans and a little saucepan to make this, it’s worth it. Feel free to adjust the acidity in the glaze to your particular taste. I recommend a mild-flavored oil to cook the fish; I used safflower with success. I find olive oil tends to make fish taste a tad bitter on its own.
- 1/2 cup plus 6 Tbsp apple cider
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp olive oil, preferably Kalamata
- 1 carrot, sliced diagonally to 1/8″ thickness
- 4 parsley roots (or about 1 1/2 cups when sliced), sliced to 1/8″ thickness
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- 2 rosemary sprigs (or 1 teaspoon dried), leaves removed
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1-2 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower
- 2 4-oz tilapia fillets
In a small saucepan, combine the cider and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, otherwise the sauce will bubble over. Cook down until the volume has reduced to about 2 Tbsp, which will take about 15 minutes (you can prep and cook the entire rest of the meal during this time). Remove from the heat and stir in the butter.
Meanwhile, in a nonstick pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Spread the carrots, then the parsley root evenly over the hot oil, then tuck in the garlic halves. Sprinkle the rosemary on top. Cook the vegetables uncovered for 3-4 minutes without stirring. Reduce the heat to medium, stir and turn the vegetables, and continue to cook until they’re tender and caramelized; this should take about 5-7 minutes longer, depending on how brown you like your vegetables (I let them cook in both stages to the extremes … as Chef Anne Burrell says, “Brown food tastes good!“). Season the vegetables with salt and pepper, add the parsley, and stir in half of the cider glaze.
With about 7 minutes of cooking time left on the vegetables, heat the vegetable oil in a second nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Season the tilapia on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the fillets to the pan and cook on the first side about 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is lightly browned and the thickest part of the fish is cooked about 2/3 of the way through. Flip the fillets and cook another 2 minutes, or until they are just white throughout.
Pile some of the carrot and parsley root mixture onto a plate and lay one tilapia fillet atop. Drizzle additional cider glaze over the fish and vegetables. Ready, set, devour!