Italian parsley is a variety of the parsley plant used as an herb in a wide range of cuisines around the world. The slender stems give way to dark, flat leaves that taste robust and fresh. This herb, also known as flat-leaf parsley, is sold on the stems but only the leaves are most commonly used in cooking, which can be added whole or chopped. Italian parsley is also sold dried, which is more muted in flavor than fresh. Italian parsley is available year-round and is easy to grow at home.
Varieties of Parsley
Although there are more than 30 varieties of parsley, the most common are Italian parsley and curly parsley. Whereas Italian parsley is aromatic, curly parsley is less flavorful, tasting similar to grass and increasing in bitterness over time. Although Italian parsley can be used as a finishing touch to a dish, its fresh flavor is why it is added to a variety of recipes. Curly parsley, on the other hand, is mainly used as a garnish.
Italian Parsley vs. Cilantro
These two herbs look very similar and are easily confused with each other. They are both flat-leafed and dark green, but Italian parsley has darker, shinier leaves compared to cilantro (also known as coriander). The fragrance and flavor are where these fresh herbs differ greatly. Italian parsley is much milder in both taste and smell. And while cilantro adds a distinct flavor to a dish, Italian parsley enhances the other ingredients and brings a bit of vibrancy to a recipe.
Fresh vs. Dried
Whereas most dried herbs have a stronger flavor than fresh, dried parsley has minimal taste compared to using the leaves. Generally speaking, it bears little resemblance to fresh flat-leaf parsley and therefore cannot be substituted for fresh. Dried parsley is best used in recipes where it will be cooked for a long time, like in soups, stews, and pasta sauces, and will combine well with other herbs without clashing. Fresh parsley should be added at the end of a recipe and can be used as a garnish.
What Does It Taste Like?
Italian parsley has a fresh, clean taste. It is described as slightly peppery, with a hint of citrus, clove, and nutmeg. Adding the fresh herb to a recipe contributes a vibrancy to the dish and helps bring out the flavors of the other ingredients. The stems have more flavor and aroma than the leaves and can be used in cooking.
Cooking With Italian Parsley
The entire herb—stem and all—can be used in herb bundles (bouquet garni and sachet d'epices) for flavoring stocks, soups, and sauces, but more often the leaves are stripped from the stems and chopped before adding to a recipe. They can be used as an ingredient in recipes such as meatballs and meatloaf or added as a flavoring at the end of cooking. Whole leaves can be incorporated into salads and used as a garnish.
Recipes With Italian Parsley
Parsley is used in a wide range of savory recipes and pairs especially well with chicken and fish, as well as other ingredients like butter, lemon, and garlic. There are certain recipes that will call for using the leaves from an entire bundle, but most call for a few tablespoons.
Where to Buy Italian Parsley
Parsley is often sold in large bundles in the produce section of the grocery store. Look for bright green leaves with no signs of yellowing, browning, or wilting. The bunch can have some moisture but the leaves should not be soggy.
Flat-leaf parsley can easily be grown in a home garden or pot from seeds or starter plants (the latter is best for beginners). It can grow in full and partial sun, and the flat-leaf variety does quite well in hot summers.
To keep your Italian parsley fresh for as long as possible, it's best to clean the entire bunch with water, gently wrap it in paper towels, place it in a ziptop bag, and store in the refrigerator; it should stay fresh for a week.