Lovin’ the Lovage

 

What was life like before the tomato? Dark and gloomy, for sure. First recorded by the Aztecs around 700 AD, the Aztec tomatl (see how we plundered the word from right under their noses and oh so cunningly disguised it) doesn’t appear to have arrived in Europe until the 1500’s. Imagine a life with no pizza, no spag bol, no ketchup, NO BLOODY MARY!

You think you’ve tried tomatoes every which way and then into your life comes a herb which transforms the ubiquitous tomato. Not basil, not oregano but lovage. Yes, lovage. The young leaves, finely chopped, bring a savoury, salty, almost umami quality to a tomato dish. We’ve tried it with tomato tart, with pico de gallo, with bruschetta. We’ve drunk bloody marys though lovage ‘straws’ (the hollow stems of the mature plant). We’ve tempura’d the larger leaves. A lovage and pea velouté, chilled in summer, hot in the cooler months, is a joy.

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Here’s a recipe for a failsafe lovage and tomato passata. Use it on pasta, on rice or grains, on a pizza base or, if you reduce the sauce to a thicker consistency, as a relish for your BBQ’d meat or veg.

Recipe

Makes about 300g. Suitable for veggies, vegans and omnivores alike.

Ingredients

1kg tomatoes
100ml water
40ml lovage infused rapeseed oil
5ml red wine vinegar
5g caster sugar
20g young lovage (leave and stems)
I/2 tsp salt or to taste

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Method

Wash the lovage and pick the leaves from the stems. Use the stems and any older, larger leaves for the lovage oil below*. Finely chop the leaves and put to one side. Put the tomatoes and water into a large pan over a low heat until completely soft. Discard skins and seeds. We use a mouli (a stainless steel food grater, sometimes also called a moulin) for this.

Heat lovage infused oil in a heavy based pan. Add red wine vinegar and let it bubble for one minute. Stir in the tomato pulp and sugar and let the mixture reduce by about 2/3 to a sauce consistency. Towards the end of cooking add in the chopped lovage and salt to taste. *Put cold pressed rapeseed oil in a heavy based pan over heat. We usually make about 750 ml at a time but we use a lot of it! When the oil starts to bubble add in the stems (and any larger, older leaves), remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 2 or 3 hours. Strain into a sterile bottle or jar.

 
Chris White