ryan’s resurrection: a tale of lovage and a bloody mary worth your suffering

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What’s not to love about the unmistakable, vibrantly herbal blast of lovage?  It’s as if a posh designer got hold of celery and added psychedelic green flowers to the scent, and thinned out the stalks into slender hollow tubes, coiffed by fringed leaves. Growing perennially over six feet high in the garden, and in unimproved clay-dense soil in the shade yet, it’s one of the first plants up in the spring and a Willamette Valley gardener’s dream.  It can easily get out of hand once established, so you’ll have to plan well and use the leaves and stalks in many culinary preparations.  The tender shoots that emerge in the spring are particularly good, and lack the bitterness of the older leaves.

Lovage, with its aggressive parsley, celery seed, and lemon zest notes, marries well with egg, lemon, cucumber, potatoes, chicken, and beef.  Although it’s been a garden favorite for several thousands of years and considered an aphrodisiac, it was much more of a staple for the Romans who used the seeds and dried leaves, and the kitchen staff of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, who were directed to plant it in all his gardens.  Indeed, its dramatic stage presence and tendency to bulldoze other flavors in a recipe has frightened off the timid.

Read more about the ancient connections and do sample my own recipes for Roman stuffed eggs influenced by Apicius, or a potato salad with lovage and pine nuts.  You might also try a beef stroganoff with lovage, sunchokes and celery, a Romanian meatball and lovage soup called ciorba de perisoare, a mackerel and lovage tart from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for your boldest companions and a petits pois/lettuce/lovage soup for the others, or even lovage in a Scottish breakfast sandwich described by vegetarian culinarian Deborah Madison in her homage to the herb.

As pictured above, one can serve hollow lovage stalks as a straw in any suitable drink, even water, topped with a jaunty leaf hat.  It makes for a refreshing afternoon delight after weeding your back 40.

Or you might just enjoy lovage in a cocktail, a spicy Bloody Mary of epic proportions from my colleague and co-host on Food for Thought on KLCC, Ryan Stotz.  It’s a perfect drink for Easter brunch, surely a hell of a lot better than nasty jelly beans and low-quality chocolate hollow eggs made tinny by foil.  You might try it with a rabbit porcetta and salad of wild arugula and little Western bittercress with roasted beet.  Or just a liquid lunch?  In any case, if you’re as much of a fan of Ryan’s as I am, you’ll immediately recognize his almost freakishly honed wine professional nose and palate at work here, like a little devious bunny rabbit.  And don’t fret too much about the ingredient list — even Ryan admits it can be flexible with what you’ve got on hand.  But do try the original when you’re feeling the need for an extravagant and special sunny March morning with your own fine self.

Happy Easter!

Ryan’s Resurrection

Makes one pint.

In a metal tumbler, aggressively muddle the following into a coarse paste. This will take fucking forever and ruin your muddling hand for the day:

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (it’s worth getting Penzey’s Whole Special Extra Bold Indian Peppercorns for this)
  • 1 tablespoon Sarawak white peppercorns
  • 1 healthy dash celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 Piquin chili peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon horseradish powder (again, it’s worth getting Penzey’s for this)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 4 or 5 large lovage leaves
  • 2″ length lemongrass, finely minced
  • Zest of 2 key limes (or just juice the limes, reserve the juice and toss in the peels)

Add the following and stir:

  • Juice of 2 key limes
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (at least; I usually add more)
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 10 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 dashes Red Boat fish sauce (I used and loved Three Crabs brand for years, but seriously, the difference between that and Red Boat is like the difference between Cook’s and vintage Krug)
  • 20 dashes Crystal Hot Sauce
  • 10 dashes Tabasco regular
  • 3 dashes Tabasco habanero sauce
  • 5 dashes Bittermens or Scrappy’s celery bitters
  • 2 tablespoons home-fermented pepper sauce (Culinaria Eugenius’ recipe) or Korean red pepper paste (ssamjang)
  • 1 teaspoon Pickapeppa sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Datu Puti spiced vinegar

Add ice, the following, and shake:

  • 3 oz. Tabasco Spicy Bloody Mary mix
  • 3 oz. Spicy V8 or Spicy Clamato
  • 3 oz. vodka (who cares what brand, it’s vodka)

Strain into an ice-filled pint glass. Sprinkle on some celery salt,
add a couple dashes more celery bitters, garnish the ever-loving shit
out of it, and drink.

(Recipe courtesy of Ryan Stotz.)

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i get knocked down / but i get up again, or, flower power!

I’m pretty excited to see the daffodils, in full bloom on their spindly stalks when snow hit, springing back after being blanketed for days.  Cheery little faces!  I need to learn something from their attitude.  Even dirt-flecked and ragged, they hold their heads up high.

The flowering quince, probably my favorite plant on the property and also in full bloom, survived without a single broken branch.

I was most worried about the haskap berry bushes, since they’re my earliest crop and were already starting to form berries on several of the plants.  But they seem fine.  I guess when you grow in Siberia, you can handle a little wet snow.

And here we have Oregon’s finest rhubarb, miracle tarragon and horseradish.  Got snow?  No problem!  I’m also amazed to see cilantro (two varieties) and all my other herbs flourishing.  Strawberries, asparagus, peas, flowering broccoli (two varieties) and arugula are doing just fine, thanks.  The single asparagus stalk nub bit it, though, and I’m cautiously optimistic about all my raspberries.

I’m always happy to see my old friend lovage return in the early spring.  I made some potstickers with it the other day that I will post soon.  And my wispy frisée with seeds from Switzerland is doing great.  The trouble with tribbles.

And of course, best of all, is the eerily deathless kale. I particularly like this picture, as it looks as if it’s as large as one of the piles of brush from downed branches and limbs in my yard.  It’s the ‘Red Russian’ cultivar discussed in a recent Washington Post article on kale, where they argued that the flat-leaved B. napus varieties were hardier than the fall B. oleracea kales like lacinato.  I guess I tested that hypothesis!  Not a single scratch.

 

ab ovo: tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 400 AD with eggs and lovage

We’re still struggling through over temperatures well into the 90s, and the last thing I feel like doing is cooking; even starting up the grill is fatiguing.  So I’ve been thinking about summer appetizers, those light, fresh, simple nibbles that highlight one or two ingredients and delight the eye and tongue with something unusual, and thought I’d feature a few of these beauties in the upcoming weeks.

These recipes will contain some ingredients which aren’t available widely, but they are fun to play with if you can get your hands on them.  I’ll suggest substitutes when I can.  What’s most important is to experiment consciously and purposefully with just one or two flavor combinations.

The first in my series of summer appetizers is an adaptation from the Culinaria Italy cookbook. Inspired by the fabled gourmand of ancient Rome, Apicius, who was likely a composite figure that is credited with creating the world’s first cookbook, this recipe takes what was originally a sauce for soft-boiled eggs and returns it to the egg — in a deviled-egg-type sweet and sour stuffing of pinenuts and lovage.

I love the idea of lounging about in white togas with broad purple edging, and eating beautifully prepared, local stuffed eggs, with, say, peacocks strutting to and fro and slaves to refresh your gin-n-tonics (which were not Roman, but the British have Roman blood, and well, it’s *my* fantasy, ok?).

The fish sauce might be the strangest item in this recipe, but it approximates the popular Roman fermented fish condiment, garum or liquamen.  If it wigs you out, just use salt, and in all cases, use it sparingly.

Lovage is one of those perennial herbs that takes a while to get started but then stubbornly persists on little water and filtered light, year after year.  It has the taste of strong, sweet, lemony celery. It can easily overwhelm a dish with its perfumey, vegetal bitterness.  In short, we don’t see it much in American recipes except for the occasional soup.  But as a main attraction in a simple small dish, it can be refreshing.  You might choose to substitute celery leaves, or even tarragon, which would work well but change the character of the dish.

To make the perfect hardboiled eggs, follow my recipe below.  You won’t get the hard, dry yolks or the greenish cast that comes from overcooking the eggs.

Pinenut and Lovage-Stuffed Eggs

In ovis hapalis: piper, ligusticum, nucleos infusos. Suffundes mel, acetum, liquamine temperabis. (Original recipe in Latin)

  • 12 hard boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, soaked in verjus, or a sweet wine such as Riesling, for 15-20 minutes
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped lovage, or substitute equal amounts celery and parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • Several dashes Thai fish sauce or salt to taste

Prepare hard boiled eggs by placing eggs in cold water and turn heat on medium high.  When water starts to boil vigorously, remove eggs from heat and place in bowl of cool water to stop cooking.  Cool eggs and peel.

Slice eggs in half lengthwise and carefully remove egg yolks to bowl, reserving egg whites for stuffing.  Combine pine nuts, lovage, honey and egg yolks.  Using a mortar and pestle (or, less satisfactorily, a food processor), crush the mixture until pine nuts are mostly smashed and have released their oils into the yolks.  Add pepper, vinegar and fish sauce or salt to taste, mix well, and stuff the eggs.  Garnish each egg with a lovage leaf or a few reserved pinenuts that you have roasted until light brown.  Refrigerate eggs until serving.

AND…for your picnicking pleasure…

Bonus Potato Salad with Eggs, Pinenuts and Lovage

This preparation also makes a great potato salad, according to Retrogrouch, who ate it all as I was cleaning up the kitchen.

Boil 2-3 medium waxy potatoes. Cool potatoes and slice or cube while still warm.   Combine potatoes with the crushed pinenut and herb preparation above, then add 3-4 chopped hardboiled eggs.  Add a handful of parsley and more lovage, if you have it.  Blend with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, or to taste, and salt and pepper.  Chill for a couple of hours before serving and keep cold in cooler if you plan to serve it outdoors or after a Roman orgy, since it is highly perishable.