An airy, fluffy, cheesy soufflé is a delicious way to showcase the versatile lovage plant. This perennial herb is like celery on steroids, and so easy to grow. Its flavour is fantastic with cheese in a light, eggy lovage souffle. (Skip to recipe.)
Just sayin' . . .
I don't mean to be bossy, but if you don't have a lovage plant in your yard yet . . . what's stopping you?
This hardy herb grows just about anywhere, and I actually recommend that you plant it in a tough spot, because if it gets the herb-lovin' treatment (like good soil, plenty of sunshine and regular water) you'll have a monster on your hands. And with lovage - a little goes a long way.
The flavour of lovage is so wonderful . . . think of celery combined with parsley - times one hundred, but with a richer, more savoury kick. You'll want some in your garden. A few leaves in a soup, or stock, or stew add a complex intensity to the whole dish. Chop a few leaves and add them to chicken salad for a Scandinavian twist. Use a large handful of the stalks with leaves as a savoury bed for a roast chicken or beef roast to perfume the whole thing with a subtle flavour. Or stuff a salmon with it for a wonderfully moist and tasty meal. Finely chop a few leaves into an egg salad, or into scrambled eggs, or into a green salad. Or make a heavenly soufflé - recipe featured at the end of this post.
Lovage is a well-known and much used herb in European cooking, but I find that very few people in North America know what it is or how to use it. In German it is called Liebstöckel (little love stick) or Maggikraut (Maggi herb - because it tastes similar to the Maggi brand seasoning which my mom always used to season soups). It grows easily anywhere and is a perennial that will thrive for years in the same spot without any care. Its lovely leafy greenness would even look good in a flower bed - just plant it in the back because in good growing conditions, it will grow up to 2 metres (6') high. Every year, by about July, Andreas loves to use the machete to hack our plant back down to size. After that it still grows to about 1 metre high again, by the end of the summer - and we live in a zone 3 climate, here in the Edmonton area of northern Alberta, Canada.
My lovage plant has been in the same spot for years, and has only grown a little wider each year. It has a tough woody root, like a rhubarb plant. My mom has a lovage plant growing at their cabin in northern B.C., right in the grass, and it survives the tough winters there. It only gets half as tall as mine, but provides plenty of leaves for cooking.
So I encourage you to find a spot to plunk a lovage plant into your yard and you will be rewarded with an easy-care herb to flavour meals for years to come. You can find lovage plants at good greenhouses in the spring, or beg a piece off a friend that has one. If you're patient you could start your own from seeds, but since you'll really only need one plant, it's easier to buy or beg it. I dry the leaves every fall - just lay them in a single layer on cookie sheets, then leave them in a warm place until dry - then crumble them into a jar. They do their job of adding flavour to cooked dishes all winter long.
I've been so thrilled to see my lovage plant shoot out of the earth this spring, I could hardly wait for it to get big enough to pinch off a few leaves to make our favourite lovage souffle. The rhubarb isn't big enough to use yet, but my lovage is here! This is the first garden sign for me that summer is on its way.
I love, love, love my lovage plant.
One spoonful of this soft, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth soufflé, and you might love lovage, too.
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Kitchen Frau Notes: The flavour of lovage if very intense, though it does mellow with cooking, so always start with a small amount and add more as you taste it.
Use aged sharp cheddar if you can, but even medium cheddar will be good. Do try to get the natural kind though, not the artificially orange-coloured cheese. If you use a really mild cheese, you may need to add a pinch of salt. If you use an aged or sharp cheddar, you won't need salt, as the cheese is quite salty, and lovage seems to naturally bring out the saltiness in food.
Don't be intimidated by the fact this recipe is a soufflé. It really is very foolproof, and I've often doubled the recipe and made it in a 9x13 inch pan and it still turns out great. Every last bit gets eaten up. Like all soufflés it is best eaten as soon as it comes out of the oven, but really, it still tastes great even when it's fallen slightly.
Wingin' It: And if you don't have a lovage plant yet, you can make this soufflé with a mixture of other herbs you might have around (even chopped green onions would work, but you wouldn't have that lovely lovage flavour - you'd have a very tasty cheese soufflé - add ¼ teaspoon salt, too.)
Lovage Cheese Soufflé
adapted slightly from Summer Delights, Growing and Cooking Fresh Herbs, by Noël Richardson
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons sweet rice flour or 3 tablepoons all purpose flour
- 1 cup (240ml) milk
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- ¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce or ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) finely chopped fresh lovage leaves
- 1 cup (110gms) grated aged, sharp cheddar cheese
- 5 large eggs, separated
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Butter a 1½ quart soufflé dish or casserole dish.
Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Stir in the flour and whisk until it is fully incorporated into the butter and bubbling slightly. Pour in the milk, about ¼ of it at a time, whisking well after each addition until it is smooth. Stir in the dry mustard, hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper, and the chopped lovage. Cook for 2 or 3 more minutes, whisking constantly. Add the shredded cheese and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and add the 5 egg yolks. Whisk well and set aside.
Beat the 5 egg whites until stiff. Add about ¼ of the beaten whites to the sauce and stir them in lightly. Gently fold in the rest of the beaten whites until there are no lumps of egg white larger than a pea remaining. Don't overmix it - you want to keep it light and fluffy.
Pour the mixture into the buttered soufflé dish and bake for 35 minutes, without opening the oven door.
Serve immediately, spooning out portions with a large serving spoon.
This is so good with a salad as a light lunch, or as a side dish for dinner.
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You might want to serve it with: