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Flavorful Lovage Pesto

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The best lovage pesto! Try an unusual pesto recipe bursting with fresh flavor, a condiment that goes with anything and makes any dish taste better.

small jar of pesto with a spoon sticking in it.

What is lovage?

Lovage or Levisticum officinale is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region. It’s very popular in Europe, not only in the Southern parts but also in Germany or the UK. It belongs to the same family as carrots, parsley, and dill (Apiaceae).

The plant is easy to cultivate, it grows tall and bushy, and after one or two years, you will have enough leaves to make lovage pesto for the entire neighborhood…

close up of a bush of lovage.

What does lovage taste like?

Lovage tastes like a mixture of celery and parsley but is more potent; I find it is one of the most aromatic herbs. After working with the plant to make lovage pesto, your hands will smell like lovage for the rest of the day.

The taste is pungent and unmistakable, very slightly bitter, with smoky undertones. Yet it feels fresh on the tongue, and it enlivens any dish seasoned with the plant.

In Germany, it is mainly known under the name Maggi plant (Maggikraut) because it is one of the main ingredients used to make the bottled Maggi seasoning.

A simple plate of spaghetti with lovage pesto makes an incredible meal, bold, fresh, and unique. Perfect for a quick dinner yet fit to serve to guests.

And if you like bold homemade pesto, check out the Wild Garlic or the Lemon Balm Pesto.  

Recipe ingredients

listed ingredients for making lovage pesto with cashews, parmesan and lemon.
  • Lovage leaves: You will need 200 g/ 7 oz leaves. I don’t bother giving you the amount in cups because you will never be able to measure these leaves correctly in a cup. Only measure the leaves after you’ve removed them from the stems.
  • Oil: I prefer sunflower or canola oil for this recipe; they are relatively neutral-tasting, allowing the lovage taste to shine through. However, olive oil would be fine, maybe a lighter sort.
  • Nuts: Cashew nuts are delicious. However, they can be replaced with other nuts (See Recipe variations).
  • Cheese: Parmesan cheese or vegetarian hard cheese (See Recipe variations). Use freshly grated cheese, not the pre-grated Parmesan; that would ruin the recipe.
  • Lemon: About two tablespoons, but add more to taste if you like. It brightens up the flavor.
  • Other ingredients: Fine sea salt or Kosher salt and ground black pepper. If using table salt, add less at first, taste, and only add more if necessary; table salt is more potent than sea salt.

Step-by-step instructions

  • Wash and dry the herbs with kitchen towels.
  • Pick the leaves from the stems and measure the required amount.
  • Place about half of the leaves in a food processor; they will probably fill the processor. Process them shortly to make space for the remaining ingredients.
  • Add the remaining leaves, nuts, chopped cheese, oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (1).
  • Process until smooth, scraping the walls of the food processor a few times in between (2,3).
collage of two pictures of ingredients for pesto before and after processing in a food processor.
stirring pesto with a spoon in a metal bowl.
  • Adjust the taste with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice (if necessary).
  • Transfer to jars.

Recipe variations

  • Nuts:
    • You can sub cashews with other nuts or seeds. Pine nuts are perfect but very pricey.
    • Almonds, sunflower seeds, or walnuts are more economical and equally delicious. Experiment and find your favorite combination.
  • Oil: Use only sunflower oil or canola oil or combine them.  Light olive oil is also fine.
  • Cheese: Substitute Parmesan with Pecorino, Gruyere, or another firm, strong-tasting cheese.
  • Add cayenne pepper to taste. About 1/8 teaspoon would be enough for us but do add to your liking. It gives the lovage pesto an excellent kick.
  • Add 3-4 grated garlic cloves if you like.

Expert tips

  • Consistency: This pesto (and most of those I make) is relatively stiff compared to store-bought pesto. That’s a good thing! The pesto contains less oil. Thus, it’s less fatty and calorie-laden. The stiffer consistency also makes it perfect for spreading. When you use it for pasta, you can always thin it by mixing it with a bit of pasta cooking water (or cream/milk).
  • Freezing pesto: Place it in small jars leaving about 1 cm/ ½ inch headspace so the jar won’t break when the contents are freezing. I’ve never experienced any jar breaking or freezer burn when it comes to pesto, and I have been freezing it for more than a decade now.
  • Jar size: Preferably small ones, 150-200 g/ 5-6 oz. I don’t bother buying canning jars for this; I reuse small jars that used to contain commercial pesto, capers, or bread spreads. One pesto jar of this capacity is usually enough for 500 g/ 1 lb of pasta.
close up of a jar of pesto made with fresh lovage.

Recipe FAQ

Is this pesto vegetarian?

No, because it contains Parmesan, and this kind of cheese is made with rennet (an enzyme that comes from the stomach of young animals). You can use vegetarian hard cheese instead, made with vegetarian rennet.

How to store lovage pesto?

Refrigerate the jars; they will be fine for about 2 weeks.
Freeze it, and you can enjoy it for at least one year. Defrost the jars in the fridge or on the counter. Defrosted lovage pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

What to do with the lovage stems?

I never discard them. Instead, I freeze them and use them to make chicken stock, beef bone broth, or vegetable stock. Wash and dry them, chop them roughly and freeze them in freezer bags.

How to store fresh lovage?

Wash and dry the leaves and keep them refrigerated in an airtight container. They will be fine for about 4-6 days but check regularly and discard any leaves that start to get mushy.
Freeze the chopped leaves in freezer bags; they will keep well for at least 6 months.

How to use lovage pesto?

  • Pasta: I’ve mentioned that pasta with lovage pesto makes an incredibly tasty meal already.
  • Pizza: Use pesto to smear on pizza dough instead of tomato sauce. Top with mozzarella and whatever else you like.
  • Sandwiches and wraps: A cheese and lovage pesto sandwich is delicious. Or make my daughter’s favorite wrap: tortilla + cream cheese + pesto + crumbled feta + red onion slices + lettuce leaves.
  • Bread: Make pesto bread, pull-apart bread, breadsticks, etc.
  • Salad dressings: Mix it with olive oil, vinegar, or yogurt/sour cream to make the most delicious salad dressing.
  • Dips: Mix it with cream cheese, crème Fraiche, or sour cream.
pesto in a jar, half a lemon and fresh lovage leaves on the table.

More ways of preserving herbs

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pesto in a jar, half a lemon and fresh lovage leaves on the table.

Flavorful Lovage Pesto

Incredible lovage pesto! Try an unusual pesto recipe bursting with fresh flavor, a condiment that goes with anything and makes any dish taste better.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dips, Sauces and Dressings
Cuisine: German
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 minute
Servings: 5 small jars (750 g/1.5 lb)
Calories: 674kcal
Author: Adina

Equipment

  • 1 Food processor
  • 5-6 Small jars (150-200 g/ 5-6 oz capacity)

Ingredients 

  • 200 g lovage leaves 7 oz, Note 1
  • 150 g cashew nuts 5.5 oz/ 1 cup
  • 230 ml sunflower oil or canola 1 cup, Note 2
  • 150 g Parmesan 5.5 oz/ ½ cup, Note 3
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice more to taste
  • 1 ½ teaspoon fine sea salt or Kosher more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper Note 4

Instructions

  • Pick the leaves from the stems and measure the required amount.
  • Place about half of the leaves in a food processor; they will probably fill the processor. Process them shortly to make space for the remaining ingredients.
  • Add the remaining leaves, nuts, chopped cheese, oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
  • Process until smooth, scraping the walls of the food processor a few times in between.
  • Adjust the taste with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice (if necessary).
  • Transfer to jars.

Notes

  1. Only measure the lovage after removing the leaves from the stems. You will need more or less 2 large bunches.
  2. I use sunflower or canola oil or a mixture of them. Olive oil is also fine, preferably a lighter sort.
  3. Parmesan is not vegetarian; for a vegetarian pesto, use vegetarian hard cheese. Please use freshly grated cheese, not pre-grated.
  4. To give the pesto a bit of heat, add some cayenne pepper. I add about 1/8 teaspoon, but please use to taste.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 674kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 64g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 45g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 1214mg | Potassium: 456mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 3605IU | Vitamin C: 56mg | Calcium: 423mg | Iron: 5mg
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