Titan parsley. Sounds like a giant of an herb, right? It’s the oxymoronic name of the parsley pictured above on the right. Compared to the regular Italian flat-leaf parsley on the left, it looks downright diminutive. But what it lacks in size—and who says small is a negative, anyway?— it more than makes up for in a dynamic, slightly sweet flavor.
“It’s like parsley unplugged, without the astringency of normally cultivated parsley,” said Dan Barber, the visionary chef behind Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, north of the city. “We love titan parsley because of the clarity of its parsley flavor.”
I’ve been buying titan parsley for several years now from Paffenroth Gardens farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, described as “the Target of vegetable vendors” by Regina Schrambling in the New York Times, and a more apt analogy there isn’t. Owner Alex Paffenroth provides a panoply of produce, and he’s the only farmer I know of at Union Square who offers titan parsley. But Paffenroth doesn’t just grow it. He features it with an informative sign and prominent placement amongst his many offerings, so it’s hard to miss.
Although Paffenroth supplies plenty of the usual suspects in the vegetable world, “I’m always looking to try new things,” he says. When I mentioned how much I liked the titan parsley, he replied that it had proved to be a hit among chefs. “Which chefs?” I couldn’t help asking. When he told me that Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns are his biggest customers, I put a call into chef Dan Barber.
Barber says they use the titan parsley whole, mostly in salads, treating it like a salad green, whereas they “tame” regular Italian flat-leaf by chopping it. Titan parsley makes total sense as a salad green. It’s got the dark green leaves of flat-leaf, but with the bushy bounce of curly parsley, and its own unique, subtle sweet taste.
Speaking of parsley salads, the first one I ever had was at the Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley, California, way back in 1986. I was there with two former colleagues, Zanne Stewart and Amy Mastrangelo, and we had it served on top of a hot-from-the-oven garlicky pizzette, so that the parsley wilted slightly. It blew our minds!
These days I like to make parsley salads with the titan parsley tossed solely with extra-virgin olive oil and umeboshi vinegar, the Japanese fruity flavored brine that’s leftover from pickling ume plums, which you may be most familiar with as the salty purple schmear on the inside of some maki rolls.
So start spreading the word. Grow some titan parsley in your garden, or ask your favorite farmer to grow it. You’ll be happy you did.