"A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift."

Laurie Colwin

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Essential Ingredient: Provenzal

So I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing for the past six or eight weeks.  My beloved niece said that she was, in a combination of thrift and common sense, going to live off her pantry, fridge, and freezer, for a month, and extended the challenge to us.  I accepted, because the sitch in this house was dire.  I cannot begin to describe the state of the pantry.  Nay, pantries.  Because as if one crumbling, leaning tower of Pisa of foodstuffs wasn’t enough, we had two.

Although I’m not the world’s most organised stores keeper, this was the worst my pantry had ever been and it was easily traceable back to when My Baby and his babies moved in last February, bringing with them their own pantry contents.  How it became one insurmountable problem was a mixture of things:  mismanagement, busy-ness, plus the fact that My Baby brought with him stuff I just don’t use... but at the same time couldn’t bear to throw away.  So I waited for him to use it.  And he didn’t.  And we kept buying weekly groceries.  And you know the rest.

So when I took up the challenge, I set out the rules:  we would only buy fresh fruit and veg, and bread and milk, for a minimum of a month.  That month came and went, and we hadn’t made a dent in the pantry.  Yep, that’s how full it was.  Another few weeks and OK, it was much better, with the added bonus of finding stuff in there I had forgotten about (“I knew I had salted capers in here!”  “Two-year-old Jamaican raisins!  AWESOME!”), but still too full.  A quick glance at the use-by dates revealed what I was dreading:  I’d have to do a mass cull.  But as guilty as I felt about this, given my support of Love Food Hate Waste, the discovery of the scary, scary stats that Aussies are wasting $7.8 billion of food every year, and the fact that I haven’t thrown much fridge food away thanks to Recycling Fridays and better management, I kinda knew I had to cull in order to start afresh and stay on track.  A good start to the new year, I said to myself as I sent out bag after bag to the bin.  Sigh.

So.  On to today’s topic: parsley, the herb that – in its fresh form – no good kitchen should ever be without, and also, because of its fresh form, the one that we most tend to throw away.  Now – I know how to store parsley (stick stalks in a jar of water, put freezer bag on top, secure with a rubber band, keep in ‘fridge), but it’s still not one of those things that is a good keeper.  If your week gets suddenly busy, you might find that the bunch of parsley you were using so enthusiastically at the beginning will just go off, without warning, in the day or two you didn’t go into the kitchen.

There are other ways of storing parsley, such as the French way of washing out the chlorophyll from finely-chopped parsley by wrapping it in a tea-towel and running it under cold water, or freezing cubes of chopped parsley, but this defeats the purpose of parsley for me, which is its freshness.  “Parsley is ghastly” the very witty Ogden Nash may have said, but I don’t use parsley as a garnish, I actually use it as a flavouring.  The refreshing mineral flavour that so lifts and highlights a dish is lost when it is washed or submitted to the harsh cold of the freezer.  Better for me to have it in a form that I will use:  provenzal.

Provenzal is the name Argentines give to a classic mixture of chopped parsley and garlic, although it cannot have been invented there.  First and foremost there is the – d’uh! – no small matter of the name, and also the fact that it is the classic Italian treatment for truffles.  Indeed, any Italian dish that features parsley and garlic as the main flavouring is called “trifolati”, ie. “truffled”, so a dish of mushrooms sautéed in parsley and garlic, for example, will be known as funghi trifolati, or truffled mushrooms.  Provenzal begins and ends countless dishes, and if you have it on hand, you’ll find yourself adding it to anything.  So although I’m putting it down here as a good way to store parsley, it is far more than that:  it is an essential ingredient all its own.  The aroma released when you chop the parsley and garlic (which you should do at the same time) gets my mouth watering before I do anything else, and out of all the kitchen perfumes that remind me of my mother, this is probably the most evocative.

Storing provenzal involves a simple, tried-and-true method:  pot it up, cover it with vegetable oil, and stick it in the fridge.  If you’re not certain that you’ll use a big jar of provenzal, but aren’t sure that you can use a whole bunch of parsley in a few days either, why not store half your bunch of parsley in the usual way, and use the other half to make a jar of provenzal?  It’s the best of both worlds.


1 bunch parsley, stalks removed, washed and dried
1 bulb garlic
Vegetable oil, as needed, if storing

Simply separate garlic cloves and peel, and chop very finely along with parsley.  This can be done with your mezzaluna, a sharp knife, or your trusty food processor (this is what I use when I make large quantities).  This is provenzal, and can be used straight away.  If you want to store it, transfer to a sterilized, completely dry jar, and cover with vegetable oil.  (Much as I love extra virgin olive oil, I don’t use it on account of it congealing in the ‘fridge, and also because it will add its own flavour – not something you necessarily want all the time.)  Store in the refrigerator, making sure that provenzal is always covered with oil.

Now that you have your jar of provenzal, what to put it in?  Like I said:  I’ll add it to anything, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

-  Stir into hot, cooked rice along with butter and Parmesan
-  Provenzal pizza is delicious: spread provenzal over par-cooked pizza base, top with mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan, and flash in a hot oven until cheese is melted
-  Add at the end of any simple chicken sauté
-  Sauté mushrooms in provenzal and extra virgin olive oil or butter for funghi trifolati
-  Combine with butter to make garlic butter, which you can then use for garlic bread, to melt on top of steak or vegies, or if you’re a particularly hard case, for spreading on crusty bread
-  Add to any salad dressing, particularly if the salad will feature cooked greens (eg. green beans, broccoli) or legumes (eg. black-eyed beans, lentils)
-  Mix into minced meat before forming into meatballs
-  Toss with extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan into hot spaghetti
-  Brush over any meat before roasting
-  Use it to spike beef or lamb before roasting or braising
-  Whisk into the egg part of the crumbing set when crumbing and frying
-  Marinade thick slices of provolone in provenzal, then cook on a hot cast-iron grill briefly on each side, until beginning to melt.  Sprinkle with oregano and chilli flakes, and drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil before serving immediately with crusty French bread
-  Combine provenzal with olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of vinegar, and use it to marinade poached lamb’s brains or chicken breast for an hour or so before serving
-  For a delicious antipasto that will keep a few months in the refrigerator for impromptu snacking and sandwiches as well as the slavish adoration of any dinner guest, cook any combination of eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, onions, and mushrooms in equal quantities of vinegar and water until tender but firm.  Drain several hours, then layer vegetables in sterilized jars with provenzal, salt, pepper, and a little oregano between layers.  Tuck a few bay leaves down the sides, then cover with olive oil.  Allow to mature for a few days before tucking in (it gets better with age).
-  For awesome moules, sauté provenzal for just a few seconds in olive oil, then add a glass of white wine or water.  Bring to the boil over high heat, and dump in mussels.  Jam lid on, and cook fast until mussels are open.  Serve in deep bowls with plenty of the garlicky cooking liquor and crusty bread.  (If you like, you can set mussels aside in a warm place while you quickly reduce liquor, then add a little cream to make a sauce you pour over the mussels.)


  1. Wow, I am going to have to try this!

  2. I hope you will. My daughter went a little overboard and made twice the amount, then despaired that she wasn't going to be able to use it all, but using it she is! A little goes into everything, and it just gives it OOMPH.


So! Whaddya reckon?