Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Homage to Lovage

I don't even know where I got my Lovage from.  It was a long time ago, I know that.  And I think I got it just because it sounded like a cool word.  Most people don't know how to pronounce the herb's name, let alone what to do with it.  Lots of people ask me at market what to do with "love-ahhjeh"

Europeans and English folks are much more comfortable using it.  They put it in soups, fold it into egg dishes, toss it with asparagus and green beans, even dry it and combine it with more traditional herbs, like parsley and sage and thyme.

What's best about lovage, like dandelion and nettle, is that it pokes its lime green head out of the soil and announces Spring like one of those first hot days does- even when hot means 60 degrees, and not 16 degrees.

It reminds me of one of those brilliantly colored songbirds, gone for so many months, now back at the feeder, tasting the oranges that we've laid out to lure them close for that fleeting moment before they head off to the forest.  One day last week, I had a rose-breasted grosbeak, a northern oriole, an indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager ALL in the same platform feeder.  Lovage is like that: it's here first, so it begs to be used. Who would think that an indigo bunting would be attracted to an orange in a feeder.

The thing about lovage is that a little goes a long way.  It is in the celery family, but it's spicier- like a cross between fennel and black pepper- and bitter- like arugula or orange zest.  People are scared of it here.  What do you do with it, they ask at market.  And so, I made pesto out of it to show everyone how versatile it is. In the raw, I sprinkle it on asparagus (it tames the sweet), put it in deviled eggs (brings out the creamy yolk), steep it in soup (best with poultry, again, taming that sweetness).

I guess my point is that just because it's different, doesn't mean it's not good.  The songbirds that have travelled hundreds of mile know this when they come to our yard in search of oranges before retreating to the forest.  And we should experiment with learning how to use what comes back to us in spring.  That means to me using one of the first of my perennial herbs to come back to life in the garden.  Here are two great recipes that have passed the teenager's and the midwestern meat-and-potatoes' taste buds.

Asparagus Sesame Soup
serves 4
1 pound asparagus
1/8th cup peanut oil
1 1/4 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup minced scallions
1 large all-purpose potato, peeled and diced

1/2 quart chicken stock
pinch of sugar
2 tbs toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons soy (or tamari) sauce
1 tbs sesame oil
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbs chopped lovage for garnish

Snap the ends off of the asparagus, or alternatively, peel the first two inches.  Cut off 1 inch of the tips and reserve.  Slice the remaining stalks thinly.

Heat the peanut oil in a saucepan or soup pot that is big enough for all of the ingredients.  Add the onions and scallions and stir over medium heat until wilted and soft, but not browned.  Add the potatoes and the sliced asparagus.  Pour in the stock, the sugar and half of the toasted sesame seeds.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until all ingredients are tender, about 20 minutes.  Then pour the soup into a blender and blend until smooth.

Add the reserved tips, the soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper.  Sprinkle individual bowls with the chopped lovage.  
The soup is good chilled or hot, although I prefer it hot.

Adapted from Judith Olney's The Farm Market Cookbook 1991

Lovage Pesto

makes about a half pint

3 large cloves garlic peeled and chopped ( or 4 tbsp chopped wild leeks)
1/4 pound lovage leaves, stems removed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) walnut pieces
2 teaspoons sea salt

Put the garlic or wild leeks in a food processor or blender, then the lovage and half of the oil.  Blend until smooth (I sometimes add a bit of water to help the process along).  Add the walnuts and the remaining oil and salt.  Let it sit for at least an hour before using.  It will stay good for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

From Barbara Kofka's Vegetable Love 2005

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