Chervil is native to Eastern Europe, and grew in the Caucasus region. Chervil was spread by the Romans, who, according to Pliny, used it as a green vegetable, and also used the roots as a vegetable. The ancient Greeks referred to chervil as the ‘herb of joy’ and used to make wreaths to put on heads, when a cheerful event was celebrated. It was once called ‘myrrhis’ because its volatile oil smells like myrrh, one of the gifts the magi gave to the baby Jesus according to the Bible. Because of this association it is often used at Easter, and it is also in evidence then, because it symbolizes new growth after winter and the beginning of spring. The oil comes from the seeds and other parts of the plant.
Chervil is one of the ‘fines herbes’ and is also used in bouquet garni along with a bay leaf, a sprig of rosemary and a twig of thyme. It is also one of the herbs used along with lavender in herbes de Provence. When chervil is used to flavour sauces or stews it should be added about 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time, as if it is exposed to too much heat, it loses its flavour. It is known as ‘gourmet’s parsley’, but with its mild liquorice and pepper taste, it doesn’t taste like parsley. It enhances the flavours of the other herbs it is cooked with, and has been cultivated in France for centuries.
The ancient Greeks combined it with dandelion leaves and watercress as a way to combat nutrient deficiency in winter, when there were few green vegetables to be found. Culpeper believed that it was good for digestion, and in folklore it was believed to make men ‘merry’ and sharpen the wit as well as making old people feel young again. In the language of flowers, it symbolizes sincerity.
Chervil has been used in medicine to aid digestion and stimulate the appetite, as a blood purifier and eye tonic. Chervil juice has been used to treat eczema and lower blood pressure. In the Middle Ages the boiled roots were thought to ward off plague, and if you had hiccups, they would stop if you ate the whole plant. It has also been used as an ingredient in dyes and perfumes. Washing your face with chervil water is supposed to maintain the suppleness of the skin and to keep wrinkles at bay.
In cookery chervil makes a useful addition to salads, light sauces, chicken, fish and seafood dishes. In Norway and France it is used as a condiment and bowls of freshly chopped chervil are place on the table, to add to meals. It can also be used in herb butters.
CHERVIL SAUCE FOR PASTA
1 cup fresh chervil, chopped
¼ cup pecorino cheese
¼ cup toasted pine nuts (or ones that have been lightly fried in olive oil)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsps olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Blend all the ingredients together in a blender and store in the fridge until you want to use the sauce. It will keep for up to 3 days.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
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