Don't be parsimonious with the parsley!

I had the good fortune to dine at Esca recently, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and chef David Pasternack's Italian seafood restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. The entire meal was wonderful, but what lingers with me even more than maccheroni alla chittara with sea urchin and crab meat, is the parsley. The parsley at Esca is a revelation.

Parsley is the red headed step child of the herb family. Everyone gushes over the fresh summer basil at the farmer's market, and those who love cilantro do so with ferocity. But parsley is largely ignored by American diners. When it appears on the plate, it's as an afterthought – chopped and sprinkled across fish, or set to the side of a shrimp cocktail platter in its curly form. The most publicity parsley has received was on Sex and the City, when Carrie fakes a parsley allergy and is rudely called out by her then boyfriend, Berger ("If I don't say I'm allergic, it magically winds up all over the plate!")

I don't blame the character of Carrie Bradshaw, because her oven is used for storage and she seems to subsist on cosmos, pizza and brunch. But if she ate the calamari appetizer at Esca, she might change her tune. The grilled local squid is sliced and served with hot red pepper, lemon, dashes of olive oil and flat leaf parsley. The herb isn't chopped and added for color, but exists in its whole leaf form as a main feature. It tastes green, zesty and lends a brightness to the dish that suits the creaminess of tender squid. It was like eating an organic, locally raised chicken after years of packaged Purdue breasts, an aha! moment of "so this is what it's supposed to taste like."

I've frequently used flat leaf (aka Italian) parsley in sauces, but never understood how truly wonderful it can be in its natural form until that moment at Esca. Give a vibrant bunch of the fresh herb a rough chop, and it's ready to shine in salads or rustic toppings on meat and seafood. I'm still not on the curly leaf bandwagon, but am willing to keep an open mind if I encounter it in a non-garnish form. Until then I'll be sticking to its flat leaf sibling, and experimenting with the following recipe tonight.

Grilled Veal Chops with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata
(2 servings)

Gremolata is an Italian fresh chopped herb sauce that typically accompanies osso buco, braised veal shanks. I don't have the hours to devote to braising, so I'm grilling marinated veal chops and finishing the dish with the tangy parsley topping.

The gremolata recipe is adapted from The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali, and the marinade from Bon Appetit, August 2003.

INGREDIENTS:

Veal
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 8- to 10-ounce loin or rib veal chops, each about 1 inch thick

Gremolata
Leaves from 1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted at 400°F. for 2 minutes
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup freshly grated horseradish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION:


For veal:
Whisk first 5 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Arrange veal chops in a glass baking dish or other nonreactive receptacle. Sprinkle chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Pour marinade over chops; turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat), or an indoor electric grill. Remove chops from marinade and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Grill chops until cooked to desired doneness, about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer chops to serving platter.

For gremolata:
Make the gremolata just before the meat is placed on the grill. In a small bowl, combine the parsley leaves, pine nuts, lemon zest, and horseradish and mix well by hand. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and set aside.

To finish:
Sprinkle the gremolata on top of the cooked veal chops. Serve with a caesar salad and rice pilaf or orzo for a complete meal.