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Italian parsley, known scientifically as P. neapolitanum, is an herb in the Apiaceae family that is commonly used to flavor or garnish food. It is similar in appearance to curly leafed parsley, but has a stronger, more robust taste as well as a flatter leaf. As its name implies, Italian parsley is indigenous to Italy and most of Mediterranean Europe, though it is cultivated with great success in many parts of the world.
Differences From Curly Leafed Parsley
Most grocery stores and markets stock both Italian, or flat leafed, parsley and curly leafed parsley. Many people consider curly varieties to be more standard, with Italian versions playing a more gourmet or specialty role. This distinction is mainly due to the differences in taste, and sometimes in price.
Curly parsley, which is frequently the less expensive of the two, has only a very subtle flavor. Sometimes cooking will make the taste more pronounced, but not always. It is typically used only as a garnish, as a means of livening up the look of a dish without altering its taste.
Italian parsley, on the other hand, often has a robust peppery flavor. It has a much higher concentration of essential oils, which gives it a distinctive taste. Cooks often use flat leaf parsley as a garnish because of its vibrant green color, but also use it to flavor a number of dishes.
Flat leafed parsley is a common addition to soups and stews, and may also be cooked alongside poultry or meat. The parsley tends to release its oils more completely when exposed to heat.
It also has a taste many find pleasing when eaten raw. Cooks often add the herb to pasta dishes, salads, and even some sandwiches.
Once cut, Italian parsley will typically last anywhere from three to five days. Cooks can often prolong the herb’s freshness by storing it in the refrigerator or standing the stalks upright in a glass of water. Leaves that have been soaked in oil will often keep for a month or more, though the soaking will impact their flavor. Parsley stored this way is often best used in pastas or as a garnish in order for it to keep its consistency.
Dried Italian parsley typically lasts a lot longer than fresh, but has a diminished flavor. Most of the dried parsley purchased in commercial markets comes from curly leaves, unless otherwise noted. Cooks can dry out the leaves of Italian varieties themselves, often on racks or in a warm oven. Professional dehydration machines are also an option for those who do a lot of herb drying.
Many nurseries sell potted Italian parsley, and it can also be grown quite successfully from seed. Like most herbs, it is somewhat delicate, particularly when it is first getting started. Success typically requires a regular temperature and plenty of water. Once stalks have reached a height of about 5 inches (approximately 13 cm), they can be transplanted outdoors, preferably to a flat surface with consistent sunlight.
Related Plants and Common Confusion
Flat leafed parsley is related to a range of herbs aside from the standard curly parsley. Cilantro, Chinese parsley, and Hamburg root parsley all share a number of attributes, and can often be substituted for each other with some success.
Some food scholars believe that Italian parsley was avoided by many cooks in earlier times because of how closely it resembles hemlock, a deadly plant that grows wild throughout much of Southern Europe. While the plants do look alike, they are not related. Grocers and herbalists today rarely ever confuse the two, and the risk of inadvertent poisoning is no longer a concern with consumption.