Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lemon Verbena - A Beauty

Verbena Vodka
As most of you will know, I love Cafe Paradiso and it is no secret that I have all cookbooks written by Denis Cotter. And it was in his second book 'Seasons' that I came across the herb Lemon Verbena (a gorgeous pudding with white chocolate & ricotta - just delicious). He stated in the recipe that it will be hard to find - I can report that it is not. There is a lovely guy at the Coal Quay Farmer's Market in Cork who sells them.

Freshly picked Verbena
It is a beautiful herb with such a fresh citrus aroma - sitting next to it in the garden makes you think of Italy (not sure why but it does). The leaves are too bitter to eat raw but just rub them between your fingers - you will be surprised how fantastic the smell is. I have made chocolate fillings it it and people were amazed about the delicate flavour (I believe it goes best with white chocolate). But you can also use it in teas, baths and so much more. 
Verbena & White Choc Pudding

So, I bought 2 plants and planted them in my lovely herbal garden (ok, it's a raised bed) but they got so big (despise the weather) that I had to cut them back. So, here I was, standing with lots of lemon verbena leaves which I just didn't want to waste on the compost heap. I cooked the Lemon Verbena pudding before, so I wanted to find different ways of using it.

The first idea that popped into my head was of course cordial/syrup which is dead easy to do. You can dilute it with water, sparkling water or - in my opinion the best option, add it to a glass of chilled Prosecco. It also add a nice touch to cocktails etc.

Bring a liter of water to the boil with same amount of sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let it simmer until it becomes syrupy. Remove from the heat.  Add a cup (or more) of lemon verbena leaves (bruise them a bit to release the oil) and let to steep for an hour or so. Strain and bottle. Keep in fridge.

Verbena Lemonade
Lemon Verbena Syrup
Another great idea was to make lemonade from it. Got the idea from the normal lemonade which uses lemon zest and juice - so I thought, make it with verbena. In this case I boiled a kettle of water, poured it into a bowl and added lemon verbena and honey. I just kept adding leaves and honey until I liked the taste. Left it to cool completely, strained it and bottled it. I am not sure about the shelf life of this lemonade but make to keep it in the fridge and use it as soon as possible. It is delicious and refreshing especially if you add a few fresh mint leaves.

The next idea was a jelly - was thinking of fresh baked scones with cream and lemon verbena jelly or even jam tarts.... one word here for the jelly, the verbena has absolutely no pectin so it will not set on its own (even with jam sugar), so you will have to add lemon. Here I added the zest of 2 lemons as well as the juice (you can also use the pips in a bag to add extra pectin) but you can also by a bottle of pectin (the organic shop in the English Market has it).

Pour a liter water into a non-reactive pan and add about 2 cups of chopped lemon verbena leaves as well as the zest of 2 lemons (I peeled them rather than grate) and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for about 15 mins. Remove from heat and let it cool completely.

Verbena garden
Strain into a clean pan, add about 1kg of jam sugar and bring back to a boil. Let is simmer rapidly until it starts to thickens slightly (make the set test by spooning a bit of the jelly liquid onto a cold saucer - it is starts to set quickly it is ready to be jarred). This might take up to 20 mins (remove the scum from the top). If it fails to thickens, add the pectin and simmer for a further 10 mins.

Spoon the jelly into prepared sterilised jars and tighten the lid.

You can make so much more with lemon verbena - it is such a beautiful herb. Tea, potpourri, flavoured sugar, infused vodka (infusing away in my larder as we 'speak').... the ideas are endless. Watch this space for more delicious recipes

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