April 19, 2012

The Tale of Curly Parsley (A Children's Rhyme) and a Recipe for Italian Spring Minestrone with Parsley Pesto

Back when I was in high school, a certain cookbook wandered into my life and never left. A review on the cover of this book calls it "the most useful cookbook of all time." It's really not an overstatement. 

Roast Chicken and Other Stories, the endlessly useful cookbook by British cookbook writer Simon Hopkinson, is filled with some of the most simple, useful, and satisfying recipes I have ever come across. If I ever started one of those blogs where I cooked my way through every recipe in a cookbook, this would be the one. He fills the pages with his personal favorite recipes, like Onion Tart, Baked Rice Pudding, Scallops Bercy, and Omelette Arnold Bennett (complete with smoked haddock, bechamel sauce, hollandaise sauce and heavy cream). 

He divides the cookbook by ingredient (anchovies, chicken, chocolate, custard, kidneys, onions, scallops, tomatoes, etc.) and introduces each ingredient with a little story or anecdote. His introduction to the parsley section, a story from his childhood, stuck with me in particular. It's the tale of how parsley came to be curly.

For whatever reason, while I was in high school, I decided to make this story into a children's rhyme. I've never done anything with it until now, but decided this was the time to debut it. So here it is. 

And below is a recipe for an Italian minestrone soup with spring vegetables, topped with fresh and fragrant parsley pesto. It's from the talented and adventurous Italian nonna and chef Benedetta Vitali who has a restaurant in Florence. It's a terrific soup - my go-to soup recipe. I think you'll enjoy it.


The Tale of Curly Parsley

Miss Tolly-Tappernill was her name,
She lived in a cottage on Leafy Lane,
Daily to her garden she did tend,
To her it was a cherished friend. 

For here the fairies did reside,
Each in a flower, side by side,
And pixies would often visit too,
They played in shrubs, which also grew.

She loved her garden very dear,
So yearly flowers did appear,
Lavender, daisies and hollyhocks,
Marigolds, lupins and forget-me-nots. 

The fairies liked her quite a lot,
So disappoint them, she did not,
She fed them berries from a tree,
And they were as happy as could be.

But as time does, it came to pass,
Miss Tolly-Tappernill died at last,
Her cottage on the market sold,
To city folks – big, brash and bold. 

They picked the flowers, one by one,
The fairies soon were on the run,
Their blossom-homes now good and gone,
They sang a sad and sorry song. 

In the garden, new plants came about,
Oh no – soon vegetables were beginning to sprout! 
Carrots, cabbage and collard greens,
Cucumbers, capers, and kidney beans. 

The city folk planted vegetables all around,
In old clay pots and in the ground,
The planting they did was not done sparsely,
And worst of all – they planted PARSLEY!

The fairies now were quite dismayed,
For parsley grew where they once played,
The pixies were upset as well,
And so they thought: “We must rebel!” 

So late one night, the moon was out,
The fairies and pixies came about,
In a fist the parsley they did clinch,
And to its leaves went pinch, pinch, pinch

They pinched it all throughout the night,
And in the morning did take flight,
And as I think you know see, surely,
That’s how parsley got to be curly!


Italian Spring Minestrone with Parsley Pesto
Serves 8

-1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
-1 red onion, minced
-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
-2 stalks celery, minced
-1/4 head savoy or napa cabbage, cut into thin strips
-2 leeks, green tops removed, sliced and washed
-2 zucchini, cubed
-3 large boiling potatoes, cubed
-1 can white cannellini beans
-1 cup grated parmesan cheese, grated
-1 cup parsley pesto (recipe below) 

1. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and saute for about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, leeks, zucchini, potatoes, and beans. Cover the ingredients in the stockpot with water, add a large pinch of salt, and cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, covered. Stir periodically.

2. After 20 minutes, begin checking the vegetables for doneness. They should be soft but not mushy. Add more salt and pepper. When the vegetables are ready, remove half of the contents to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add back into the rest of the soup and stir to combine. Mix in 2 tablespoons of the parsley pesto. 

3. To serve, place the soup in bowls and top with a dollop of parsley pesto, some grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy! 

Parsley Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

-leaves of 1 large bunch Italian (not curly!) parsley
-1 clove garlic
-2 tablespoons pinenuts
-3/4 cup olive oil
-juice of 1 lemon
-1/3 cup tablespoons parmigiano cheese, grated
-salt and pepper to taste

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, garlic and pinenuts. Slowly add the olive oil with the processor running. Add the lemon and cheese, pulse briefly, and season with salt and pepper.