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weekend herb blogging: In love with lovage

lovage leaves

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is one of my favorite herbs you have never heard of. The herb's lack of public recognition always seems odd to me. It's a versatile herb with a palate-friendly flavor a lot like celery, yet more complex and nuanced. Fresh, young leaves are mellow enough to use whole in a salad, but it also stands up to long cooking in soups and stews.

The obvious presenting flavor of lovage is celery, but the flavor is more complex than that. Along with the concentrated celery is a large dose of the bright green flavor of parsley and a hint of something sweetly earthy. I use it as a celery substitute whenever it is available and find it provides some ineffable extra taste that I really like.

The hollow stem, a section of which can be up to a foot or more in length and an inch in diameter, makes an excellent straw for drinks, such as a Bloody Mary, where a celery flavor is desired. Lovage stems can be candied, like angelica, as an unusual sweet treat.lovage brush

Excuse me a moment of excitement, but I just discovered a new trick for lovage stems: sliced lengthwise and put in ice water, they curl like the ridged curling ribbon they make for wrapping presents! This offers all sorts of possibilities from the sublime (make a brush for putting melted butter on corn on the cob) to the ridiculous (edible icons of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Curlicue garnishes. Hair for Halloween monsters. This could be fun.

Lovage is also a beautiful addition to your herb garden. Unfurling from asparagus tip-like bundles in early spring, lovage quickly becomes a hip-high bush of soft green foliage.closeup of new growth on lovage Midsummer sees flower spikes shooting to eye level before opening golden umbels that slowly mature into marvelously tasty seeds, something the birds know as well as I. Come fall, the birds and I vie for themature seeds, with my winnings finding their way into stews and breads over the winter.

Gardeners appreciate lovage because it is easy to grow, tolerating most soil condition and even a bit less water and sun than large, leafy herbs. (It is easy to tell when lovage is thirsty; mine, which is in direct sunlight, droops noticeably on hot days. Fortunately, it revives just as quickly with a bit of water.)

lovage flowersA perennial that, like tarragon, requires a period of cold dormancy, lovage is often grown as an annual in warm climates. If you have to do this, you can save your own seeds, stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, over the winter for spring planting.

You can often find plants at a local nursery, although probably not at a 'big-box' store, and seeds are available from a number of sources, including Territorial Seeds and Seeds of Change. Better yet, keep an eye out for a plant in the garden of a friend or neighbor; If you see one, don't be afraid to ask for a start for your garden. A single plant is enough to supply all but the most avid of lovage fan - and two will do for even them - and since lovage self-seeds, there are often small "volunteers" growing around the base of established plants. Spring (now as I write this) is the perfect time to divide lovage clumps, preferably on a cool, cloudy day.

One of my favorite uses for lovage is in this melt-in-your-mouth ragout of leeks sauteed in butter, diced tart apple, and lovage that I was lucky enough to have as part of the nine course tasting menu at the Herbfarm Restaurant. It is also in The Herbfarm Cookbook, which is a lovely book and one of the better used volumes on my kitchen shelves.

The original recipe calls for halibut, but I have used the ragout on a number of types of whitefish (sturgeon, halibut, swordfish and so on) as well as pork and chicken. Although I'd skip the chicken in the future, it's great on the other two. My version is scaled for two people, but it is easy enough to increase the quantities for a larger number.

Halibut with Apple, Leek and Lovage Ragout

Leek

1 large 

or 2 medium

or 3-4 small

Butter

1 tablespoon

1/2 ounce

14 grams

Dry white wine

1/2 cup

4 ounces

112 grams

Tart apple (I use granny smith)

1 large

or 2 small


Apple cider or juice

3/4 cup

6 ounces

168 grams

Lovage fresh, chopped

2 tablespoons



Vinegar (mild and pale - white wine, sherry, rice)

1 tablespoon

1/2 ounce

14 grams

Salt

1/4 teaspoon



Pepper

to taste



Halibut (or other whitefish)

1/2 - 3/4 pound


225 - 340 grams


  1. Clean and julienne just the white part of the leek - see tips on how to do this here. (Save the green part of the leek for another use.)
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften and start to brown, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the white wine and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
  4. Add the apple cider and continue cooking until liquid is reduced to about 25% of initial volume. (This is usually about the time the tops of the leeks are exposed above the liquid.)
  5. Add the diced apples, lovage, vinegar, salt and a grind or two of pepper and cook, stirring often, for another minute. Remove from heat. (You can prepare this ahead to the point and store the ragout in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.)
  6. Cut fish into individual portions and place in a single layer in a baking dish. Pour ragout over the top of the fish and cover the dish with a lid (or parchment) and bake in a preheated 425° oven until the fish is firm and milky, the center is barely translucent and the flesh flakes with a fork, about 10-15 minutes.

Note: When I make this with pork chops, I usually brown one side of the chop on the stove before baking it in the oven as described for the fish.

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. Weekend Herb Blogging is being guest-hosted this week by The Kitchen Wench who has her mouth-watering roundup here.


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