Summer is a time for minimizing kitchen time, at least at the stove. For the most part, local harvests cooperate. Stone fruits and herbs are easily converted into aguas frescas, cold yogurt-y soups and dips with a blender. Parsley root does not fit that summer profile -- and yet, here it is, in tidy, compact bunches. The need to thin crops, and subsequently not waste a perfectly fine root vegetable, brings them to the markets this month.
Parsley root will defy your summer routine. It lacks the moisture needed to juice well. And unless you have a Pacojet, the closest to a raw puree you'll get will be small chunks. Parsley root salsa, then? Not unless you really like the taste of raw turnips, parsnips and celery with your cilantro. Where parsley root shines is as a magnificent flavor boost -- for braises. Think cassoulet -- but maybe with a little shorter cooking time. Remember, tender green flageolets and black-eyed peas are also in season, which allows for a much shorter cook time and fresher taste. It's a nice excuse to make some hearty comfort food, even if you end up spreading it cold on a crisp baguette, topped with a dollop of yogurt.
Parsley root is one of those "big in Europe, rare in the United States" vegetables, though even in Europe it's only common in the eastern part of the continent. A study by Czech researchers in 2003 compared 17 different varieties of parsley root. In the U.S., we'll likely see only two: the Fakir, a German cultivar, and the Bartowich Long, a lone American cultivar. Both varieties veer on the small size compared to more commonly grown European standards, like the Atika and the Orbis. But what they lack in weight they make up for in nutrition -- both the Bartowich and the Fakir are high in potassium, roughly seven times more than found in your average sweet banana.
This summer crop of parsley root will be around for a few more weeks, and will be more tender than the larger fall and winter roots we'll see starting in late September. Select the way you would carrots and parsnips -- no squish, good firmness and lush green tops that indicate a fresh pick. The tops can be used like regular parsley, but with a lighter hand. Parsley root tops are more bitter and tangy than the varieties cultivated for their leaves. Both McGrath Family Farms and Finley Farms carry parsley root at various times through the season, and are both at the Sunday Hollywood market.