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. Continue reading
A bay leaf is a bay leaf, right? Oh, if it was only that easy!
If you read recipes, you’ve likely seen mention of Turkish (at left in photo) and California bay leaves (at right in photo). The Turkish bay leaf is considered the true bay leaf, Laurus nobilis. Even though the bay laurel tree grows around the Mediterranean, the best leaves are thought to come from Turkey.
Things get complicated with the California bay leaf, Umbellularia californica. While it’s a completely different plant, the leaves are surprisingly similar in shape. Where they differ is in color and flavor. The California bay is not only greener, it’s a lot more pungent, with a distinct menthol wallop. That’s why some recipes recommend using one-third to one-half of a California leaf in place of a whole Turkish one.
That information is helpful only if you know what kind of bay leaf you’ve got. And that’s where the consumer is left stranded. Most brands in the supermarket don’t state the leaves’ origin on the label. In e-mails and calls to several companies, I learned that McCormick and Frontier source theirs solely from Turkey, while Spice Islands and Morton & Bassett bottle California leaves (Spice Islands does label theirs).
Because the California ones are so strong, too many can overpower a dish. If you aren’t sure what you’ve got, your best bet is to check the company’s website, or buy from an online merchant who makes the distinction.
So what type of bay leaf do you prefer?
It’s easy to overbuy at the farmers’ market at this time of year. My nose and my eyes overrule the rational side of my brain. Fresh herbs, in particular, are my biggest weakness. Each one beckons with its intoxicating aroma, and I can’t resist buying more than I really need. What to do when I realize I’m not going to be able to use up the whole bunch before it rots? Chop it up and freeze it in ice cubes!
I got the idea from Ian Hemphill, author of The Spice and Herb Bible. I met Hemphill a decade ago in Sydney, Australia, where he has a shop called Herbie’s Spices. This is a fellow who’s more passionate about herbs and spices than anyone I’ve ever met. In his chapter on coriander (cilantro, in this case), he recommends “prolonging the enjoyment” of the fresh herb by chopping the leaves and stems, packing them in ice cube trays, then filling the trays with water and freezing them.Continue reading