Lovage – Liebstöckel or Maggikraut in German, livèche or ache des montagnes in French – is a fragrant herb that takes me by surprise every spring. During the winter it goes doggo, dying back completely and disappearing almost without trace into the ground. Then in around March (in our climate), its serrated pale green leaves thrust upwards again, at first tentatively, then with increasing vigour until midsummer when it gets to about 1 metre high, and I have to be quite firm with it and cut it right back to provoke new growth.
It has a punchy flavour, strongly reminiscent of celery, and because it’s quite assertive you need to take care when matchmaking it with food. The logical route is to serve it with neutral foods like pasta, risotto, chicken breasts, or white fish. But I admit to some memorable lovage moments twinning the herb with prawns, and also with asparagus.
I was taken to task recently (in a gently humorous way) by fellow food writer Gareth Jones, who had just been judging at the World Pesto Championships in Genoa. He related to me a conversation he’d had down there with an expert in the matter of pesto alla genovese, who got extremely aggitato on the subject, insisting that proper pesto is only e-ver made with basil; anything else is sacrilege (or a sauce, or a paste, or even a horror) – hence the quotation marks around my ‘pesto’ recipe.
In this one I’ve added some cream cheese instead of the more usual Parmesan or Pecorino, which helps to tame the lovage a bit. Try making some yourself, then test it out on different foods to see what it works best with.
4 stalks of lovage to give approx. 30g leaves
1 clove garlic, mashed
50g pine nuts
1 tsp green peppercorns in brine, drained
1 tsp salt
75g St Moret or other cream cheese or soft fresh goat’s cheese
100ml olive oil
a splash of lemon juice
- Put lovage leaves in food processor with mashed garlic, pine nuts, drained green peppercorns and salt
- Process till very finely chopped
- Add cream cheese and process again to a smooth paste
- With the motor still running, pour the olive oil through the hole in the funnel till the ‘pesto’ is emulsified to a smooth green ointment
- Scrape into a bowl (for immediate consumption) or into an airtight jar (for a longer wait – a week or two in the fridge)