A lovage plant

I wrote the other day about the simplest shortcrust pastry, for an egg tart. Now for something to put in it, besides eggs. I’ve gone for lovage (and maybe a bit of smoked salmon).

I don’t think I’ve ever seen lovage in any Irish markets or supermarkets or greengrocers. Or restaurants either, while we’re at it. Yet lovage is an amazing herb, up there with parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, bay and oregano.

How to describe its scent and flavour? Savoury, beefy, similar to celery and parsley though far more intense. Unlike celery, though, lovage isn’t heavily fibrous; it has soft leaves and hollow stems that make perfect straws for a Bloody Mary.

Lovage gives a gutsy flavour to soups, stocks, broths and potato salads. It also goes well in an egg tart, particularly with smoked fish such as haddock or salmon.

Lovage and smoked salmon tart

Some books say the word “lovage” entered the English language around Chaucer’s time as “love-ache” or “love parsley”, and it was essential in love potions. But maybe something was lost in the translation from the Italian and Latin, and the aphrodisiac angle is just a myth of, um, Viagran proportions.

Old illustration of lovageBe that as it may, I grow my lovage plants for strictly culinary purposes in a large pot rather than open ground.

Besides the luscious lime-green leaves and stalks, they will soon have scrummy seeds that are a great seasoning.

Lovage is a perennial: after dying off this winter it should return next spring. In four or five years its flavour will dilute, and it will be time to grow some new plants from seed – the fresher the better, though the seeds can take several weeks to germinate.

NB: some herbal books tell you to avoid lovage if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. I don’t know why, but best to be on the safe side.