Key Ingredient :: LOVAGE, Seattle Magazine April 2015
KEY INGREDIENT: Poppy chef/owner Jerry Traunfeld springs for this savory herb
Kitchen herb gardens are reasonably common around the city, but rare is the garden that contains lovage—a robust perennial that looks and tastes like celery. “It has a savory quality and is the kind of herb that gives food a depth of flavor and a deep, herbaceous vegetable note,” says Jerry Traunfeld, chef and owner of Poppy, on the north end of Capitol Hill.
That pop of flavor can be used to perk up vegetable stocks, enliven a bowl of steaming shellfish or fortify salads. Traunfeld often uses lovage as a finishing herb, or chopped fine and added to soups, although he says a little goes a long way. “It’s strong, and you have to use it carefully,” Traunfeld warns. “It’s an herb that can get bitter, especially if you’re using older leaves, when it’s more mature.” Leaves are best when picked young and tender; cutting back the plant regularly through the year helps to encourage new growth.
Where he gets lovage: Behind Poppy, Traunfeld and his kitchen team grow several clumps of lovage in raised planters. “I also planted some at my house for emergency backup,” he says.
Where you can find it: “I don’t see lovage at the farmers’ markets very much, so that’s the thing—you kind of have to grow it,” Traunfeld says. Lovage starts can be purchased at Swansons Nursery (Ballard) or the Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale (May 2–3 at Meridian Park in Wallingford) and planted in prepared beds or large pots, which will help contain the plant and prevent it from spreading. “Growing lovage yourself is really exciting and so much superior to anything you can buy,” Traunfeld says.
How he uses it: Lovage goes well with shellfish, clams, shrimp and scallops. “We use it in the aioli for mussels,” a popular appetizer made up of lightly fried mussels with a dollop of herbed aioli. “We might put it in a carrot salad, because it works well and it’s very pretty with both the green and the orange—they have an affinity, just like in a mirepoix.” Lovage can be sliced into thin strips and used as a finishing herb on fish (Traunfeld recommends halibut), or the leaves can be added to a simple butter sauce. Behind the bar, Poppy bartenders make simple syrup from lovage by juicing the stems, which makes a verdant syrup for sodas.
How to grow and harvest it: “The cool thing about lovage is it’s the first thing to come up in spring,” Traunfeld says. It’s a hardy perennial, so plant starts in a permanent garden spot and let new growth come on before harvesting. To harvest, clip small, tender leaves at the base of the stems. Use older, woody stems as sipping straws in summer cocktails.
Whip up this tasty starter with the underutilized seasonal herb Lovage.
Poppy chef and owner Jerry Traunfeld discussed his favorite herb of the season in the April issue of Seattle Magazine. Here, he's provided a delectable recipe using the favored herb, lovage, and pairing it with mussels—an equally choice crop of the season—to create a delicious dish suitable to start any fête of the season.
2 pounds large-sized fresh mussels, washed and beards removed
½ cup dry white wine 1 cup all-purpose flour, or gluten free flour such as chickpea flour
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying lovage aioli
5 – 10 lovage leaves
Put the cleaned mussels in a large pot and pour the wine over them. Cover and cook over high heat until all the shells open.
Transfer to a colander to drain (you can save the liquid for a seafood soup, paella, or stew) then spread them out on a baking sheet and chill. Remove the meat from the shells, using a paring knife to aid if they cling.
Pat the mussels on a paper towel to dry them, then refrigerate until you are ready to fry.
Separate the shells and clean, rinse, and dry half of them. Discard the rest.
Prepare the lovage aioli and cut the lovage leaves into very fine strips.
Mix the flour with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper in a large mixing bowl. Pour a ¼” depth of olive oil into a large skillet and place over medium heat.
Put half the mussels in the bowl of flour and toss until coated. Transfer them to a large fine strainer and shake off any excess flour.
Fry the mussels until lightly browned on the underside, then turn each and brown the other side. Use caution as the mussels might sputter and pop. Drain the mussels on paper towels and fry the second batch.
Arrange the mussel shells on a serving platter or plates and put a fried mussel in each shell.
Using two small spoons or a piping bag, top each with a small dollop of aioli. Sprinkle with the strips of lovage leaf and serve.
Lovage Aioli Recipe
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 small or 1 large clove garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
A dash of Tabasco Sauce
1/3 cup lovage leaves
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic, salt, Tabasco, and lovage in a food processor.
Turn the machine on and slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream.
Yield: Mussels serve 6 as first course; aioli makes 1 ½ cups, which is more than you will need for the mussels. Use the remaining aioli for sandwiches or salads.
Photos by Chustine Minoda