Under the Radar Herb

It’s time to take notes: Intro to lovage is in session.

You might have seen it before on a restaurant menu, but then again, maybe not. It’s lovage: an herb commonly used in Europe that’s starting to sneak onto menus this side of the pond.

The flat-leaved plant is part of the parsley family, which might explain its familiar appearance, and its nickname, sea parsley. Flavor-wise, the leaves and stem of lovage have an intense celery-like flavor perfect for soup, stew, pork, poultry, pasta and potato dishes—basically everything you’re craving when the temperature starts to dip.

Its versatility makes experimenting with the herb an easy and rewarding endeavor, even if finding it in stores is not. Call ahead to your favorite grocer to see if it can be special-ordered (for some, it depends on the time of year), or take matters into your own hands and buy the seeds for an herb garden. And of course, if all else fails, lovage’s cousin, parsley, can be substituted in a recipe.

To get you started on your lovage education, consider two simple recipes where the herb shines through the flavor profiles. These dishes have one foot in the familiar (old friends pasta and pesto), while allowing you to taste what lovage has to offer.

Fettuccine with Tomato-lovage Sauce

1 lb. fettuccine noodles
1 Tbsp. olive oil
¾ cup onion, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 cups tomatoes, diced
¼ cup lovage leaves, cut crosswise into thin strips
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to the package or 8-12 minutes, until al dente. (Reserve pasta water after draining.)

In a medium-large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for two minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for three minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for five minutes or until the tomatoes have turned into a sauce. Stir in lovage and cook for two more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat, cooking for a final 1 to 2  minutes.  —Recipe adapted from New York Times Cooking

Lovage Pesto

2 cups fresh lovage, packed
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine lovage and nuts into a food processor, and pulse a few times. Add the garlic; pulse to incorporate.

Add the olive oil in a slow and constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Serving suggestion: To let the lovage shine, toss the pesto with roasted potatoes and serve as a side dish to a roast chicken.   

Take Five With Lovage

Like most herbs, lovage can be used in too many ways to count. Since you’re just getting started, here are a few easy and fun ways to incorporate it into meals:

1.Add lovage when making vegetable or chicken broth for a fresh take on a classic soup base.
2.Introduce it to salad to give an herb-y punch to basic greens.

3.Top a bloody mary with this celery-like herb to surprise guests with more than a basic celery stick garnish.

4.Fold the herb into an omelet or scrambled eggs to lighten up breakfast, lunch or dinner.

5.Julienne the leaves and toss with lightly-cooked veggies for a refreshing side dish.