growing and storing a year of parsley

parsley-harvestF LAT-LEAF, OR ITALIAN, PARSLEY IS MACHO COMPARED TO CURLY-LEAF, particularly the selection called (grrrr!) ‘Gigante.’ I like my parsley big and strong, and I get just that by growing my own, and stashing it away for year-round use with two easy freezer tactics. No $1.99-a-bunch stuff for me except in recipes when only fresh will do, and no dried parsley for me, ever: insipid!

Curly-leaf parsley is great for edging borders, and for planting as a “ruff” around the feet of bigger plants in pots, where it will be beautiful all season, even after substantial frost. But if you want to cook, go ‘Gigante,’ or ‘Giant of Italy.’ Flat-leaf parsley has more parsley flavor, to my taste.

All parsley is extremely high in nutrients, particularly Vitamin C, folates and Potassium, as well as beta carotene. In fact, a quarter-cup of raw chopped parsley has about as much C as a quarter-cup of orange juice and double the folates (more that one and a half times those, even, of raw spinach). I include raw leaflets in salads, greatly boosting the nutritional value of every bowlful, and you could put some in these rice-paper rolls from a blog I love, White on Rice Couple.

Parsley, a biennial, is easy to grow from seed, despite being ultra-slow and taking two weeks to a month to germinate. Don’t give up on it. I start a 6-pack in the house in early spring, tucking the just-moist cellpack into a slightly ajar plastic bag in a warm spot, then moving to the sunniest windowsill once I see signs of life.

The baby plants, which will look like not so much, quickly put down tap roots and settle in outdoors, shaping up by summer into bushy things.  Unlike many vegetable- and herb-garden residents, parsley will manage in part shade, so the north side of your tomatoes (which basil might resent) is fine, for instance, and it does well even spilling out of beds, planted near the edge.

Parsley will technically survive most winters here, but what a mess it will be. To continue to harvest fresh leaves as long as possible into the cold months, tuck one plant in extra-snuggly at frost, perhaps with an upside-down bushel basket over it, and with dry oak leaves or another insulating material stuffed inside that. The plant will usually send up its flower stalk to set seed the next spring; dig it out and compost it, and start the process over. In a stressful summer (hot and dry), the plant may get the urge to “bolt” by midsummer, not even making it into the coming year.

parsley-roll-done
It’s hard to get to my vegetable garden in the worst winters, so I freeze my year’s supply: some as “pesto” cubes, others in “logs” of leaflets pressure-rolled tightly inside freezer bags (above). The log technique (so easy, and probably the only cooking Good Thing I contributed to “Martha Stewart Living,” though my record with gardening ideas was better!) is illustrated below in the slideshow below; many herbs freeze well this way, such as chives, and when you need some, you just slice a disc from one end of the log.

parsley pesto cubes 2
Parsley pesto (shown frozen as cubes, above), great as an ingredient in soup or stew or defrosted and spooned on top of a bowl of minestrone with a drizzle of olive oil and some cheese, is the same theory as with my basil pesto. When I say “recipe,” I mean “guidelines,” not “roadmap.”

Your pesto style may simply be a thick slurry of parsley blended (or food-processor-ed) in a tiny bit of water, or prepared similarly in olive oil, or you can go all the way and add raw garlic or nuts (pine or walnuts, perhaps?) or parmesan-type cheese, before freezing as cubes that are then knocked out into double freezer bags, with the air expressed. (A very different pesto, involving peanuts, is one of the other entries into today’s Fest–and a recipe I plan to try.)

A similar process, with water or oil or more, can also be used to store many herbs like sage, chives or garlic scapes, or rosemary, I recalled, reading this entry at the Gluten-Free Girl blog; use your imagination, and stash what’s in your garden for later. If made with the extras like cheese and garlic, herb pesto cubes are a real treat on crackers on a frigid day, or tossed into pasta: a mouthful of summer, just when you’re most in need.

how to make parsley ‘logs’

CLICK THE FIRST thumbnail to begin the slideshow, then use the arrows on each photo (or your keyboard arrows) to toggle from frame to frame. I know, it looks like some Cheech and Chong stash of weed, but what would I know about that?

more, more, more

130 comments
July 28, 2009

comments

  1. says

    I love reading the different way everyone is preserving their herbs and am anxiously planning the rolled method (Yes it might freak out the kids thinking mom is storing weed in the freezer). Last year I made my (basil) pesto in a fairly traditional manner; basil, EVOO, Parmesan cheese, salt, etc. I then put the dollops into the ice cube trays. After popping them out I put them on a cookie sheet for a bit before putting them into freezer bags. I didn’t want them to stick to one another. It’s been great for soups and stews. The other night I mixed one cube with a wonderful cream cheese and enjoyed the perfect fresh spread. I didn’t know parsley was so hardy. Yay!

    • says

      Hi, Janet. I do the cube thing, too, and yes, great as an appetizer on crackers — or slathered on pizza dough before adding red sauce/cheese and baking the pizza if you make homemade.

  2. says

    Love this. I also make ice cube tray balls of fresh-chopped herbs in July, then I pop them out and put them in a ziplock bag. Perfect to plop into a crock pot or winter soup.

  3. Liz Davey says

    I make pesto with a combination of cilantro and parsley, galic and walnuts. Makes a great chicken and cilantro pesto pizza. We love cilantro here. Also I make a salsa with tomatoes, red peppers, onions, shoepeg corn, black beans, cilantro, hot sauce and a bit of Italian dressing-homemade or bought. chopped Arugula goes in mayinnaise with shallots and lemon rind to spread on smoked turkey sandwiches.

  4. Terry says

    LOVE the herb roll method! I have been at a loss on how to preserve chives-now I know. I can see me slicing off a piece of roll (I think Olive Oil will slice better than water) to use all winter.
    My favorite way of freezing basil, cilantro and parsley is similar to your cube method- but I use zip snack bags. I use the food processor to grind and add just enough olive oil to make a ‘slurry’. Then I put a little into a zip-type snack sized bag, lay it flat and squeeze all the air out. Lay them flat on a cookie sheet and freeze. A dozen or so will fit into a quart-sized bag for storage.
    It is the perfect size for winter use. The oil keeps it flexible enough to just break off a small piece, if that’s all you need. I’ll take a frozen bag out of the freezer, throw it in some pasta frozen (take it out of the bag, silly) It will defrost as you are stirring in some cheese for dinner.
    I also store garlic like this, too. Take it out of the freezer and it’s already chopped and ready to go!
    I would like to see somebody’s suggestion for cilantro. I do freeze it like basil and parsley-which taste great frozen like this- Cilantro, not so much. It’s better than nothing when you need some, but I would like to see a better way.
    C’mon everybody, talk about cilantro!

    • cecil says

      hi there! I just bought a boat load of cilantro and had to figure out something quickly!!!! I decided on cilantro pesto. I used 6 bunches cleaned spun died and stemmed. Thank God for a glass of wine… I added ground mixed nuts ( I keep a small jar handy ground in a little food processor) added olive oil and a splash of walnut oil, and a clove of elephant garlic in the processor. and put that in a large flat bowl. Then I added a mix of finely grated cheeses I had on hand: ricotta salata, parmesan, fontinella, and a little goat cheese. I smushed in some chili paste, lemon zest and juice from one meyer lemon and a squeeze of lime, These were all items I had and needed to use. I froze some in ice cube trays and some in small plastic baby food containers with locking lids. All I can say is I got LUCKY!!!! It is divine. Will be good on veggies, pasta, chicken or shrimp.

  5. Susan Nicholson says

    I also try to store a enough parsley for the winter. I don’t roll it into a log. I fill my freezer bag, squash it flat to squeeze out all the air making a flat and I find easy to store shape for my freezer. I just break off a section as big or small as I need.
    I also whiz basil (or cilantro or parsley), garlic and olive oil in my food processer. I divide this into single serving size portions in zip top sandwich/snack bags. I then store groups of these bags in freezer bags. Easy to store in my freezer and to use.

    • says

      Hi, Susan. Great ideas, thank you. I have a whole lot of parsley right now needing storing before it bolts…might try some of your variations!

  6. says

    Margaret, I must tell you that your “roll and freeze” method has been life changing :-) I am buried in a glut of gorgeous basil, cilantro and parsley every summer. I’m so lost without it all winter. (Well, make that past tense.) Now I have all I need, all winter long and it’s sooo good. What an ingenious method! I can’t thank you enough for sharing it. Now I am off to roll up another log of cilantro :-)

  7. says

    Hey from Texas, and I love, love, love this idea. We are awash in basil right now and have many recipes on our blog. tomato tarts, cinnamon basil swirl cake, basil corn orzo salad, basil lime shrotbread, ….
    Take a look and like A Way To Garden, we are a gardening blog with an emphasis on what it is like in Texas.
    Great idea as always!

  8. Nancy says

    Can you elaborate? “Your pesto style may simply be a thick slurry of parsley blended (or food-processor-ed) in a tiny bit of water.”
    So the herbs can be mixed with water and frozen instead of oil? What’s a “tiny bit”?

    • says

      Hi, Nancy. You just want enough of whichever liquid (oil or water) to allow you to make the leaves into a cube to freeze. So you don’t want it soupy (lots of water or oil) or not enough to make a paste or very thick liquid that can be frozen into a cube. With the oil pestos you can always add more olive oil later, when you use them (such as to put on pasta) but why freeze extra oil now (it doesn’t really freeze properly when used in excess, anyhow). I am going to post a more detailed story on the topic this week, actually. When using water, you can even coarsely chops the leaves (just so they can be pressed into ice cube trays) and then pour a little water over each pile of greens, again just enough so a cube is formed when you freeze it.

  9. Lisa Asato says

    Very late to the party :(, but better late than never! I was thinking about drying my parsley, but now I’ll make logs instead. Can you also make cilantro logs? Thanks again!

  10. ruth says

    Thanks Margaret for the parsley info, I enjoy your pages so much, you are a love to take the time to do this for all of us.

  11. Mary G. says

    Good to know about the rolled frozen parsley. My husband who is 100% German ( is anyone really 100% anything??) grew up with a grandmother that used parsley for everything and ate it daily when in season. So, we have this familial bond to the herb. What a Winter treat we will have next year. Thank you!

  12. Helen Malandrakis says

    I planted flat-leaf parsley in one spot, and then the following year in another. I let the first year patch go to seed, and pick from the second patch. The following year, I have new plants in the first patch, and the second year patch goes to seed. I have a constant supply each year without planting seeds again.

  13. Christine says

    I love the parsley log! Can’t wait to try it in my winter soups. Have you tried making a “basil log”? Any thoughts? Thanks for the great ideas!!

    • says

      Hi, Christine. Readers have told me they do it with basil, too, but I think it blackens too easily (more delicate leaf texture than, say, chives or parsley) and so I prefer to whir it with a little oil (or water) and make cubes.

  14. Derwyn Docken says

    Hi;
    I add fresh parsley to my carrot juice. I have lots growing in my garden but I need a way to preserve it so that I can continue to use it in my carrot juice in the winter. I dry some, but that probably wouldn’t do for juicing as all the moisture has been removed. Any ideas on how I can preserve parsley fro juicing this winter?

    Thanks
    Derwyn

    • says

      I freeze mine as you can see, Derwyn. Not sure what that would be like for juicing. I wonder if you juice it now and freeze the juice what the vitamin loss/retention is?

  15. Matt says

    This is a great idea. Not sure why it never came to my mind to freeze my herbs.

    I’ve been reading some articles because I hate wasting all the extra herbs I don’t get to use when I buy a bundle from the grocery store.

    Anyway, my question is; Would the herbs still work well for something like tabouleh ? This way I can make it whenever I want or use the leftover herbs for future dishes . Or would they be too limp the second time around?

    • margaret says

      Hi, Matt. Yes, they would be good for that use later (I use parsley and mint and chives that way regularly).

  16. Carolyn Schaefer says

    Hi Margaret,
    My husband very proudly showed me his Italian flat leaf parsley in his garden today. It was so big I wondered if it really was parsley. The stems were very thick and the leaves looked like they were on steroids. I asked him why was it so big and shouldn’t parsley not be that way? He was very hurt and said it was fine–it was just big and was beautiful because he had planted it in cow compost…and there was nothing wrong with it. I chewed on the leaves and pronounced it bitter and not very parsley flavored. So now we have a stand-off. For 34 years, I’ve been the cook and he’s been the gardener. And he just won’t see my point of view. Am I right?
    Thanks,
    Carolyn Schaefer, Concord, MA

    • margaret says

      Hi, Carolyn. He’s probably growing ‘Gigante’ (Giant of Italy) and then some (thanks to the manure I guess)! It does get very large sometimes; some seed strains are quite a bit more ‘Gigante’. :) I like the big, flat-leaf kind and it is strong-flavored, but as they say: It’s all a matter of taste!

  17. says

    Would the frozen parsley logs be suitable to use in a dish that generally uses fresh parsley, like tabouli? Do you us eteh same process for basil or does in turn black?

    • margaret says

      Hi, Denise, and yes, would be good in tabbouleh. Basil will turn black if frozen that way; it needs the cube method (with oil, or oil and cheese and garlic if you want to make pesto).

  18. Ellen says

    I am broken-hearted that all three of my gorgeous gigante d’Italia parsley plants drooped and apparently died about a week ago – it’s only late August, and I expected them to go all winter. Any idea what might have gone wrong? They were in different locations in the garden, two in raised beds where everything else is thriving (and that variety has in past seasons). Is it too late to start again? I’ll try anyway… but it looks like no logs in the freezer for me this winter.

    • margaret says

      As I understand it, a few things can affect this biennial plant’s inclination to “bolt” early, or decline before its time. I think the most common reason is the stress of a bout of high heat and dry conditions (as it really prefers to grow cooler and with even soil moisture–not wet, but not baking). Have you been picking the outer leaves all along? Doing so, to encourage more inner leaves, also seems to keep the plant humming along. Some varieties of pasrley have more or less bolt resistance. E.g., Wild Garden Seed touts this very bolt-resistant strain, called ‘Splendid.’

  19. MKonstant@aol.com says

    I just received a bunch of fresh parsley from my mother in law. some I will use fresh today for my stuffed pepper mix and other I wanted to freeze but wasn’t sure how. I am so glad I found this website showing your technique! Wonderful idea.

  20. Stephanie Bradley-Swift says

    Freezing into cubes: instead of ice trays, I use clean, tri-fold plastic egg cartons. Open, fill the 24 cups w/pesto etc.; leave open to flash freeze. When frozen, fold up egg carton and then slide into a bread bag; tie up to secure–compact, easy to stack & store. The frozen cubes pop out easily as needed.

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