Lovage is a herb with a long culinary history. It was much used by the Romans and has inspired many a cook to plan his meals long before he needed to. A famous Roman saying was 'first pound pepper and lovage', rather like the Elizabethan cook's saying 'first take six swans', and lovage appears in many old Roman recipes. As its name indicates, lovage was often used in classical and medieval times as a love potion but was also used as a common and valued cooking ingredient.
Lovage is used much less today, although it is an attractive and easy herb to grow. It has a distinctive and strong taste, so you don't need much of it, and it can be used in the same way as celery. If, as is likely, you do not have a clump of young lovage in your herb garden, and can't get hold of any, then use celery (but you will need to use a slightly larger amount of celery and cook the tart for a little longer).
serves 4 - 6
175 g (6 oz) plain shortcrust pastry
25 g (1 oz) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Lovage (only the young green leaves) or 4 small stalks celery, finely chopped
300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (throw away excess liquid)
115 g (4 oz) mature Cheddar cheese, grated
1. Line a shallow 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5.
3. Melt the butter and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and fry for 2 minutes, stirring. Turn the heat down to very low, put the lid on and gently cook for up to 10 minutes or until the onion is soft and beginning to look golden, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the lovage and stir for 1 minute (if you are using celery, replace the lid and cook on the very low heat for a further 5 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
5. Put the eggs in a bowl and beat lightly. Add the cream and beat for a few seconds, then add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Drain as much juice from the tomatoes as possible and add them, together with the lovage mixture and three-quarters of the cheese, to the egg mixture. Stir, then spoon the mixture into the pre-baked pastry case.
7. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the tart and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling brown and the filling looks set.
8. Serve warm with a green salad.