The parsley war continues.
My wife and I disagree. The question is not whether to use it. We’re both parsley positive. The issue is when, during cooking or added afterward as a garnish. I’m during, she’s after.
It has not always been thus. For many years we lived in perfect harmony, parsley-wise. Diced parsley was one of those first-things-first things, like diced or chopped onion-celery-carrot. Then one day a chef friend came to dinner. We must have had something long-cook on the stove, like a braised meat. He raised the lid and lowered his face to the pan. “Always add parsley near the end,” he said. “Cooked, parsley is bitter.” It was a pronouncement. He confirmed what my wife must have always sensed. He named it. And that was that.
My orientation, in contrast, I owe to another cook. Her mother. For years I was schooled at Rosina’s cooktop. When I dropped kids off at her house on my way to work in the morning, I had a cup of coffee and stood next to her at the stove, asking questions, touching the food with a wooden spoon, getting religion. If parsley was called for in a recipe, it was almost always front loaded. That catechism at her side, because I was raised in a Midwestern kitchen where there was not hundreds of years of culinary tradition, was nothing if not foundational for me. A conversion experience. And like most converts, I no longer had questions about certain matters.
We are now a pre- vs post-parsley home.
Take involtini, for example. It’s a rolled meat dish, related to saltimbocca. (My mother-in-law, for some reason, called the dish rivoltini. Google that term and you find a dessert. I can only guess rivoltini is a local term in Pesaro, the town where she grew up; most certainly the term her mother used for the dish.)
We make this dish with either veal or sirloin tip. The meat you see in this post was called “chip steak” by our provider. If you opt for beef you have a delightful, inexpensive dish. For me, veal or beef, one is as good as the other. But it’s important that the meat is thin, because you roll it. If you buy the meat thinnish, you need to pound it thin. These slices, as you can see, were very thin, almost translucent, and very lean, and perfect for rolling.
Try this recipe twice, with pre- and post-added parsley. See for yourself.
The chip steak slices I unwrapped this morning were large, about the size of my two hands laid side by side. I cut each into 3-4 strips, added salt and pepper, and then laid a little leftover prosciutto over each strip. (I know: Who has leftover prosciutto? It happens. And whenever it does, I think, Rivoltini!)
Next dust each slice with a garlic-parsley pesto you’ve chopped. Or if you are in post-parsley mode, save the parsley for later. Also a little bit of butter on each slice won’t hurt anything. (I raise my glass and toast Anna Guidi, from Serravalle in San Marino, another unimpeachable home cook, who once served us tagliatelle and ragu and butter–an amazing dish of pasta.)
And now you roll them, pin them with a toothpick, and lay them in a pan. Olive oil, of course. And cook 10-15 minutes medium heat, turning each roll a couple times, lightly browning the meat, then continue on low heat, transitioning to very low if you can, for another hour or so total. Add a little tomato puree. A little, like 3-4 tablespoons. Too much tomato ruins Italian cooking. So go easy. Late in the process, if the pan starts to dry, a couple tablespoons of water will extended the cooking time a little.
So we eat these things. On her third or fourth rivoltino, my wife looks up. “Did you put parsley in these things?” Did I ever. “Did you pound them?” I didn’t have to. “It doesn’t hurt. Pounding tenderizes.”
They are just like Rosina used to make. At least I think they are. It’s been 20 years. The food, the recipe, the pleasure–it’s an homage. A prayer in her memory. A celebration of her life and ours.
As for the parsley–you decide. My mind’s made up.