All you need is lovage
Among the first plants to flourish in my garden come spring is lovage (Levisticum officinale). Known to the French as céleri bâtarde, “fake celery,” this stalk-less leafy herb does have a very similar green, slightly salty flavor with a pleasant hint of bitter. It’s considered a “magic bullet” companion plant—one that improves the health of all surrounding plants—and has an extremely high concentration of quercetin, a plant-derived flavonoid with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The Greeks and Romans chewed lovage seeds to aid digestion and, perhaps because of its name, lovage has long been used in tonics and potions to conjure up true love. An infusion of the seeds is said to erase freckles, although it may also cause photosensitivity. The plant grows easily and quickly; pinch it back to make it bushier and to deter the flower spikes, which turn the leaves a little too strong.
Lovage leaves make a tasty addition to salads, compound butter, soups and stocks. They’re also good with eggs—stir into a scramble, omelette, or quiche. But perhaps my favorite way to enjoy this unique flavor is in a cocktail made with lovage-infused simple syrup. I combine it with gin, lemon juice and celery bitters in a drink my husband dubbed the Lovage You Long Time. It’s very refreshing and goes down almost shockingly easy. Like other garden herbs, lovage also makes a delicious and versatile pesto. I combine it with mint and lemon juice for brightness, plus toasted walnuts, plenty of Parmesan and good, fruity olive oil.
This pesto, tossed with fresh semolina pasta, is a popular dish in Milan, Italy. If you’re a fan of fresh pasta, consider investing in a pasta machine. They can be had for well under $100 and are surprisingly simple to use. And whoever sits down to a plate of this will definitely be feeling the lovage.
Makes 1 cup
2 cups lovage leaves, loosely packed
1 cup mint leaves, loosely packed
1 large clove garlic
½ cup lightly toasted walnuts
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
½ Tbsp. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. honey
½ tsp. sea salt
3/4 cups full-flavored olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the herbs and garlic and process until coarsely chopped. Add the walnuts, cheese, lemon juice and zest, nutritional yeast, honey and salt and process into a fairly smooth paste. With the machine still running, drizzle in the olive oil. The result should be unctuous but slightly loose. Scrape into a bowl and taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice or salt as needed.
Makes 4 servings
7 ounces all-purpose flour
7 ounces semolina
4 large eggs, at room temperature
In a bowl, whisk together the flour and semolina, then tip onto a counter top or large wooden cutting board, forming a mound. Make a large well in the center, then crack the eggs into it. With a fork, gently whisk the eggs together, then use your fingers to gradually draw the dry ingredients into the center, mixing them with the eggs.
Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for at least three minutes until it’s very smooth. The dough should not feel sticky. If it sticks to your fingers, knead in a small amount of flour, just enough so your fingers come away clean when you pull them away. Wrap the dough and let it sit at room temperature for an hour. (You can keep the dough for several hours at room temperature.)
To roll out the pasta, cut the dough into six or eight pieces on a lightly floured surface. Working one piece at a time, fashion each piece into a rough rectangle, then pass it through your pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold dough in half or in thirds and pass it through again. Then fold and pass it through one more time.
Continue passing the pasta through the machine, closing down the opening of the rollers a few notches with each pass (and dusting them very lightly with flour or semolina if the dough is sticking) until you’ve reached the desired thickness. Use the pasta cutter attachment to cut the sheets into fettucine. If you’re not going to cook it right away, dust the pasta with semolina to keep it from sticking and lay it on a semolina-dusted baking sheet until ready to boil.