Parsley root, or Hamberg root parsley (Petroselinum crispum, tuberosum variety) is a type of parsley that develops very large roots, similar to elongated, thin carrots, while still maintaining an unaltered fragrance in its leaves. This white root is particularly fragrant and flavorful, edible either raw or cooked. This vegetable is quite rare and nearly forgotten, in the same way as parsnips. Its pulp is white and firm, while the flavor is reminiscent of a mix between celery root, carrots, and parsnips. The leaves are used like normal parsley, though the flavor is much stronger. The flowers are a yellow-green color.
Parsley root is a fundamental ingredient for the preparation of the most typical dish of Flanders, waterzooi: a soup which is generally fish based. The other ingredients are, indeed, parsley root, leeks, and potatoes, eggs, butter, and various spices and creams. Fish waterzooi can be prepared with eel, bass, cod, and carp. The dish is normally served as a soup with a side of bread, a baguette typically, to sop up the sauce.
This winter vegetable can be found in farmer’s markets beginning in October. It is harvested with the roots are between 12 and 18 cm long. A few hundred kg are produced each year. Parsley root is at serious risk of disappearing because the product has gone out of style since the 1960s and its intrinsic value for tradition’s sake, which is closely tied to the region’s history, is unrecognized today. And yet this plant has been part of the culinary patrimony of Belgium since the sixteenth century, as demonstrated by the fact that it is one of the main ingredients in a historic recipe like Waterzooi.
Image: Slow Food Archive