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In defence of curly parsley
On the merits of a maligned herb, a local ice cream maestro and a music superstar pair up and the perfect supporting (sn)act
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter produced in partnership with Boring Oat Milk. It’s lovely to have you here! This week The Boil Up has been written by Anna Rawhiti-Connell, Alice Neville and Mad Chapman as Charlotte is taking a short break. She will be back next week.
One of my favourite things to cook is aglio olio. It’s a rustic Italian pasta made famous in my hometown of Hamilton by Scotts Epicurean. I ate it at least once a week when I lived there as an adult and have been attempting to replicate their signature dish ever since.
Aglio olio seems very simple but involves perfecting several art forms – emulsification, al dente pasta and the fine slicing of garlic so that it almost melts into the oil. There are just six ingredients – spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, chilli, parmesan and parsley. Scotts goes big on the parsley and the perfectly portioned bowl of pasta that arrives at your table is a beautiful bright green. It’s the first dish I really remember eating where parsley played a starring role.
The most satisfying aspect of making aglio olio is the time spent finely chopping parsley. Curly parsley. Not Italian flat-leaf parsley. Never Italian flat-leaf. You can not ball up flat-leaf and chop through that ball with a sharp knife. There is no audible and enjoyable crunch.
My devotion to curly parsley for this dish is underpinned by an ongoing inability to grow Italian flat-leaf parsley in abundance. I loathe the spindly plants and bundles on offer at supermarkets. It’s stalky and meagre when compared to its curly cousin. When it comes to parsley, I prefer a fulsome bush.
According to popular culinary opinion, I stand somewhat isolated in my love of this herb. Apparently, it’s all over for curly and has been for a long time. It’s now maligned as a remnant of the 80s. Nothing but mere garnish on a plate of curried eggs or a sprig to be tossed on a bit of beef schnitzel. It was declared “uncool” by Bon Appetit in 2016. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Richard Cornish wrote in 2020 that curly parsley was “daggy” and its purpose was to adorn meat trays. The Guardian asked what the point of curly parsley was in 2021.
I existed in a bubble of blissful ignorance about this until last year when one of my brothers came around and looked disdainfully at my lovely pots of curly parsley that I have successfully been growing for years. “Why are you growing that?” he asked.
I have remained in a state of defiance and confusion ever since. Determined to defend curly parsley, I am insistent that its fall from favour is due to the cyclical and bourgeois nature of food trends. I convinced myself last week that if I were to test this theory with chefs, they would agree.
Ben Bayly pinpoints the demise of curly parsley to “the time when we realised that carbonara didn’t have cream, bacon and mushrooms in it”. Round one to Bayly with this sick burn that dates my devotion to curly parsley to a time of culinary ignorance. He says Italian food has been so bastardised by the Brits and “at some point, we realised that we loved authentic Italian cuisine”.
Bayly rates Italian flat-leaf parsley over curly, would only use curly in soups or purees and in response to my question about why it’s unabundant in my garden, says that at his place “flat-leaf grows like weeds, self-seeds and more just keeps popping up”, suggesting it’s a soil thing. Bayly owns the restaurants Ahi and Origine in Auckland and is an award-winning chef. I am filling in for Charlotte Muru-Lanning, The Spinoff’s brilliant food writer and editor of this newsletter. I think it’s pretty obvious that readers know who to back here.
Pressing on, I ask Jamie Hogg for his thoughts on parsley. He confirms that in his time as a chef, the flat Italian form is the only parsley he has “professionally been associated with”. This is despite eating scrambled eggs made by his dad that were “one-third curly parsley”. Hogg thinks flat-leaf has a stronger flavour and better mouthfeel but does say tabbouleh wouldn't be complete without curly parsley. It’s one small victory for me and one giant leap for curly parsley as far as I am concerned. Once again, though, another expert, this time the former head chef at Waiheke’s Oyster Inn, confirms that my devotion to the curly herb is a bit dated. “A lot of old-school French dishes call for curly parsley, which can give a great flavour and texture to a dish.” Hogg tactfully provides some comfort about my inability to grow flat-leaf by admitting he has failed at growing both types. My quest to gently lift curly parsley back to the heights at which it deserves to soar is bolstered by him saying that curly parsley is more satisfying to chop. I ignore his comment about flat-leaf having more flavour and colour and instead cling to his sign-off that says he's rooting for the underdog.
My last port of call is Josh Emett. Emett provides me with the villain I am looking for, the reason everyone decided curly parsley was not cool. He blames the use of curly parsley as a garnish for its demise as a bonafide herb hero. Its use as decoration at buffets helped kill its reputation as edible and delicious vegetation. The global hasselback potato superstar and owner of Onslow and The Oyster Inn, says you would use each parsley for different things. Moving on. He also said he loves curly parsley. He makes the interesting point that issues with suppliers during the pandemic often meant certain herbs weren't available and restaurants got better at using what was on hand. He says curly parsley is being used more. He stops short of describing a resurgent use of the herb as a renaissance but seems supportive of me doing so.
I asked Bayly if people would be horrified to receive a dish garnished with parsley these days. He says yes, but that we can evaluate this issue in the next decade. “Things go in cycles,” he says. When the cycle finally comes around, I will be here, brandishing this defence of curly parsley, dancing upon a grave strewn with the spindly flat-leaf variety. And in case you were wondering, Scotts Epicurean tell me they use the superior form of parsley for their signature dish.
— Anna Rawhiti-Connell
The Boil Up is brought to you in partnership with Boring Oat Milk
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Weekly bites with Alice Neville
As reported in our live updates yesterday, Auckland-based Italian ice cream maestro Giapo and timeless American pop superstar Cher have teamed up to launch a gelato brand named, of course, Cherlato. According to Instagram, Cherlato will be sold via an ice cream truck roaming the streets of LA – no word yet if Cher herself will be behind the wheel or wielding the scoop. Giapo, the brainchild of Gianpaolo “Giapo” Grazioli and his wife Annarosa Petrucci, has gained a cult following for its often gravity-defying edible creations, and when Cher visited the downtown Auckland shop while on tour here in 2018 she was reportedly “blown away”. Grazioli is notoriously fastidious about the freshness of his ice cream, so it’ll be made in LA using “the finest ingredients from local SoCal farms” and “loaded onto the truck within hours of its creation”.
If you’re fond of a bit of Kiwiana culinary nostalgia, I urge you to read Nina Finigan’s ode to Auckland’s Logan Park Hotel on The Spinoff. With two à la carte restaurants, a banquet reception room, nightly dancing, a floor show and a live band six nights a week, Logan Park was at the forefront of a new kind of dining experience when it opened in Greenlane in 1966. Finigan, a curator at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum, has unearthed an array of treasures, including glorious photos and menus featuring such retro delicacies as chicken Maryland – fried chicken topped with gravy and garnished with bananas – and cream of toheroa.
The food offerings of the venues hosting Fifa Women’s World Cup games have – in some corners of the internet, anyway – attracted almost as much attention as the soccer skills on display. Eden Park’s fish and chips verged on going viral after featuring on the @footyscran Twitter account (which exists solely to document kai at football games) at the surely too-good-to-be-true price of $10. International followers vowed they’d be moving to Aotearoa (no one tell them about the cost of living crisis) while New Zealanders called the tweet out as fake news. According to a Spinoffer who ordered the “quite yum” dish at a game this week, the real price is $12.50 – still a pretty good deal. Fritz’s Wieners’ double sausage situation, available at various game venues around the motu, has also received positive feedback, which cannot be said of the sorry excuses for burgers being served up at the stadium in Pōneke: trigger warning for the photo below right. For more world cup tucker talk, see Mad Chapman’s snack review below.
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The weekly snack with Mad Chapman
Hot chips and a can of Steinlager
There are some foods that taste completely different depending on where you eat them. An ice cream is never more satisfying than at a busy park on a hot summer day. KFC tastes better the more people you eat it alongside. And hot chips are at their peak when consumed in a freezing cold stadium watching athletes do things you could never do. On Monday I walked from the office to Eden Park, bought a cup of hot chips and a can of Steinlager, wiped my memory of the price, then sat and watched Italy beat Argentina at football. The chips were hot (most important), salty, and had more crunch than you’d expect from a stadium vendor. Tomato sauce is optional but I’d say a lot is best. The beer tasted like every other Steinlager I’ve ever had. Something about eating overpriced and common foods in stadiums feels like more than having a snack. It’s part of the experience of watching football and rugby, the gateway to live sports for kids who otherwise wouldn’t choose to sit in the cold for two hours. This football World Cup will be the introduction to sports for thousands of young New Zealanders and the hot chips will be the supporting act. 10/10, up the Ferns.
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Anna, Alice and Mad