As we huddle in the staff hut of the Daylesford market garden*, warming our hands with chipped mugs of tea whilst watching the storm outside and wondering if that was it for Spring, the unmistakable smell of lovage wafts around us. It’s been harvested that morning and its pungency gets us wondering: what’s lovage for anyway? Overpoweringly fiery when raw, it’s too intense to be something you’d nonchalantly chuck in a dish for subtle flavour and a little colour. How could anyone use a whole bunch of it, let alone the field of the stuff that’s just been picked?
And thus my challenge is set. I bring a bunch home. The smell lingers in the car, on my hands, in the fridge. But I will not be beaten.
Google is no help. Apart from soup (yawn) there is some talk of an alcoholic cordial made with lovage (more of which later) and the only other option I find is a soothing lovage foot soak (here should you need one). I do discover that it’s been cultivated since Pliny’s time, so someone must have found good in it.
I decide to pair its distinctive aniseed notes with some of my favourite things – booze, cheese, biscuits. Here’s the result:
Lovage curd cheese:
The basic ratios for the cheese (1 tsp of rennet per 1 litre of milk) are courtesy of Hugh F-W, but the adornments, such as they are, are my own. This makes a very mild and fresh cheese which seems to enjoy the punch that the lovage brings:
- 1 litre unhomogenised whole milk (Duchy for example)
- 1 tsp rennet
- 2 tbsp finely chopped lovage
- A squeeze of lemon juice and a little zest
- Salt and pepper
- Rapeseed oil
Warm the milk to 38 degrees in a saucepan then remove from the heat and stir in the rennet. Leave for 15 minutes to do its thing then scoop the curd off the watery whey with a slotted spoon and place it in a muslin cloth. Tie up the muslin and hang the cheese sack somewhere to drip for 3 hours (I tied mine to the tap in the kitchen sink so it could hang freely).
Remove the curd, now a little firmer, from the muslin and gently combine with the lovage, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with rapeseed oil and a little lemon zest.
Savoury lovage biscuits:
The perfect nibble to accompany a sundowner on a warm terrace (though the chances of either warm terrace or downing sun seem slim at the moment). The original recipe is in Ottolenghi’s The Cookbook and features more cheese and some poppy seeds, but I’ve buggered about with it as is my way, and I must say it turns out not half bad:
- 210g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3 tbsp finely chopped lovage
- pinch of salt
- 165g un-salted butter, at room temperature
- 150g freshly grated parmesan
Beat the butter and cheese together well. Add all the other ingredients and mix until you have a soft dough.
Divide the dough in half and mold each half into a long block (you’re going to slice the biscuits off the block like a loaf of bread so make it as big or small as you like your biscuits). Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour.
When ready, pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees. Remove the dough from the fridge and slice into biscuits. Anything over 5mm thick is fine, anything thinner will snap. Place them on a silicone sheet a little way apart (they grow) and cook for 12-15 minutes.
Cool and serve with G&T on any terrace you can find. Makes about 40.
Alcoholic lovage cordial (maybe):
Lovage reminds many of boozy old-fashioned drinks but few can remember why (or much else about that night I imagine). A bit of digging reveals that it was used to make a popular alcoholic cordial often served with brandy. The suggested recipes I found all use brandy as the base for the cordial, but I don’t have any. One forum (a lovage forum, who knew?) suggests using vodka instead and since I do have this I give it a go, though I can’t help fretting that I’m going the way of Bottom when he makes vodka margarine in place of brandy butter during the Christmas special. No matter:
- 1/2 pint vodka
- Roughly 100g sugar
- A few sprigs of lovage
Mix it all up in a jar and seal it. I’m told that after a week it can be strained and a dash added to brandy but I’ll get back to you on that in a week or so….
(PS: though I don’t like to end with a note of caution, I’m afraid I shall: apparently lovage is a big no-no if you’ve got kidney disease and/or are expecting a baby.)
*I’m helping out there for a bit whilst they deal with the spring rush. Idyllic. Even in the rain.