La Festa al Fresco: Lemon Verbena, The Scent of Summer

August 31st, 2007

Lemonverbenaicecream2 

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since the last Festa al Fresco, the blog party to end all parties, hosted by the lovely Ivonne and Lis, two of the friendliest and most enthusiastic ladies in the blogosphere.

My choice of ingredient for this go-around of la Festa? Lemon verbena. I had seen this fabulously fragrant herb before but never baked with it. Once it came into season and started appearing in the farmers’ markets, I was determined not to lose my chance this time!

It is nearly impossible to miss, or ignore, lemon verbena when you encounter it. Just brushing by its brilliant green fronds will release an intoxicating lemony fragrance; sharp, citrusy, and herbal at once. Almost involuntarily you will lean in to get another whiff – and then you will end you buying a whole bunch and walk home trailing its heady scent behind you. Summer is lemon verbena; it tastes like sunshine and smells like happiness.

With its clear resemblance to lemon, without the strong acidity of the fruit, so it’s not surprising that lemon verbena can be substituted in many recipes that call for lemons. However, lemon verbena really shines when the unique qualities of its flavor are explored and highlighted; beyond the initial lemon impression, it has a bright, distinctly floral edge that lingers in the mouth. Steeping lemon verbena in hot water will create a fabulously aromatic tea that allows you to appreciate the distinctiveness of this herb. Indeed, infusing lemon verbena in any number of liquids, from water to cream to oils is one of the best ways to capture its flavor and utilize it in a multitude of recipes from drinks to desserts to sauces.

So how did I use my lemon verbena, which was rapidly (and wonderfully) scenting my apartment? I chose two recipes I’d been meaning to try, and which I think make delightful summer party contributions.

Lemonverbenaicecream_2

 

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

First, Claudia Fleming’s lemon verbena ice cream from The Last Course. This is such a perfect, most indulgent way to enjoy lemon verbena – you must try it if you’ve got your hands on the herb. Satisfyingly creamy, zesty and refreshing, taste it and you are transported to the middle of green fields, warm summer wind in your hair and sunshine on your shoulders. This would pair well with another berry dessert – lemon verbena plays nicely off fruit. Or you can just enjoy another scoop of this ice cream all on its heavenly own.
Lemonverbenaparfait

Vanilla Bean and Lemon Verbena Parfait with Summer Raspberries

At first glance, this seems quite similar to the ice cream. But I thought it was interesting experiment to compare the two. Since the parfait is made with lemon verbena-infused whipped cream folded into a pâte à bombe, which is then frozen, it has a much lighter, mousselike texture that gives this dessert an airier feel. The intensity of the lemon verbena is also muted here; it serves as a tantalizing undertone to the vanilla, giving a parfait an elegant complexity and subtlety. Topped off with some ripe raspberries, this dessert is a most fragrant toast to summer.

Whether as a leading note or supporting player, lemon verbena works its surprising magic. As one of the joys of summer, it’s not to be missed – I’ll certainly be sad when this year’s crop is over and I’ll have to wait for it to show up again next year. For now, please enjoy – and thanks to Ivonne and Lis for hosting the festa! I’ll see you all there on Monday – this weekend, I’ll be at my sister’s wedding!

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course

makes about 1 quart

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 ounce of fresh lemon verbena leaves

12 large egg yolks

Combine the milk, cream, 1 cup sugar, and lemon verbena leaves in a heavy saucepan. Heat on medium-high until the mixture reaches a simmer.

While the mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together in a large bowl until smooth and thick.

Remove the milk mixture from the stove and pour a little into the eggs to temper it, whisking constantly. Pour the eggs into the milk mixture, whisking all the time, and put the saucepan back on the stovetop.

Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture has thickened enough so that it coats the back of the spoon and can hold a line drawn through it, remove from the heat.

Pour the mixture into a clean bowl and let cool. Strain to remove any lumps and then cover the mixture with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Freeze in an ice cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions.

This will keep in the freezer for about a week.

Vanilla Bean and Lemon Verbena Parfait with Summer Raspberries

adapted from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life

makes 2 quarts

1 vanilla bean

3 cups cream

4 fresh lemon verbena leaves

8 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

pinch of salt

Slice open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds onto a plate. Combine the vanilla pod, cream, and lemon verbena leaves in a saucepan.

Heat the mixture on medium-high until the cream is about to boil, then remove from heat, cover the saucepan, and let infuse for about 20 minutes.

Strain the mixture and chill it in a refrigerator for about an hour until it is completely cold.

Combine the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar in a mixer bowl and whisk on medium speed.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the sugar, 3 tablespoons water, and the vanilla bean seeds in a saucepan. Cook on high heat until the syrup reaches 248 degrees F.

With the mixer still running, pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg yolks. Add the salt.

Let the mixer keep whisking for about 7-8 minutes until the bowl has cooled to warm, and the mixture is light and thick and has tripled in volume.

In a clean, chilled mixing bowl, whip the cold infused cream to soft peaks.

Scrape the whipped cream onto the egg mixture and carefully fold in with a rubber spatula until fully combined.

Pour the mixture into glasses, molds, dishes of your choice and freeze for at least 4 hours.

This will keep in the freezer for up to a week.

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28 Comments so far ↓

  • Kat #1

    wonderful items for the party! I’ve never seen lemon verbena here, it sounds like a wonderful herb to cook with.

  • Maria #2

    I love Lemon Verbena! My neighbor used to grow it and it is the most wonderful smelling herb! I will try to get my hands on some, I would love to try these desserts. They are beautiful!

  • Maria #3

    What size ice cream maker did you use? It seems like 12 egg yolks and 4 cups of liquid is a lot for my 1 quart maker, but maybe not???

  • veron #4

    I love both lemon verbena desserts. They do look very summerish and a fitting way to end the summer. And to top it off, it’s from both my favorite dessert books. I kid you not, I was just browsing through both of them the other night. That’s why when I saw your post I was trying to figure out from which book you got it – and it happens to be from both!

  • Deborah #5

    Wow – these sound so refreshing! The perfect entry for La Festa al Fresco!!

  • Dylan #6

    This looks so good, and refreshing. It sound like it could be something that helps me get through another day (kinda like coffee for other people) :)
    I have tagged you in a meme (as Karina calls it) so visit my blog for the details. please join the “lets tell everyone about the most embarrassing things about ourselves” game.
    Your fellow blogger, Dylan

  • monica glass #7

    yum! i love lemon verbana…so refreshing and perfect for an end of summer dessert. the parfait looks awesome, and it was a great experiment to compare the two recipes.

  • peabody #8

    Two things for the party…Anita, you over achiever! :)
    They both look spectacular!

  • Big Boys Oven #9

    They look so inviting… so soft, so creamy and yet so refreshing… such a jewel that money can’t buy.

  • valentina #10

    I dont’think that I have ever tried lemon verbena ever. Unless it happened when I was in Brazil and i did not know what it was called in English. I am now curious to find that out.I will look it up and confirm.Both recipes seem delicious and refreshing Anita.

  • Ivonne #11

    Anita,

    Isn’t it incredible how quickly time flies by! But through it all I just knew that you’d come to the party again. You’re a truly honoured guest.

    And of course these desserts want to make me cry!

    Thank you so much!

  • Lisa #12

    Wow.. simply beautiful, Anita.. too pretty to eat!!

    But dammit, because it’s the annual Festa I will force my spoon to dive right in! heeee

    Thanks so much, sweetie!

    xoxo

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  • Tartelette #14

    I love lemon verbana in infusions and teas. Great entries, both look outstanding!

  • Bri #15

    That’s so great that you made lemon verbena ice cream! I was just over at my uncle’s house where they have such an exuberant lemon verbena plant, it’s as tall as a tree. I had thought, hmmm….ice cream would be good. So, now I must do it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Rose #16

    The only way that I have lemon verbana is in infusions. Sounds delicious and fresh in ice cream.

  • Casey #17

    Department of Great Minds Think Alike: I also made a frozen lemon verbena dessert for the party. Mine is a granita; the recipe is from the the wonderful pastry chef at Range Restaurant in San Francisco,

  • Kate #18

    never seen these before , but the leaf does resemble that of a neem tree. The ice cream and parfait look stunning.

  • Anita #19

    Kat,
    I’m embarassed to have found it growing practically everywhere around the bay area, yet I’ve only just started baking with it! So many wonderful ingredients to discover in this world!

    Maria,
    Hope you get to try the recipes, lucky you your neighbor grows some! I think I may have halved the recipe for the ice cream when I tried it, and it didn’t fill up my machine, which has a 1 1/2 quart capacity. If you’re worried about it overflowing, you can halve it too!

    Veron,
    We ought to compare photos of our cookbook libraries – I bet they’re almost identical:) I couldn’t decide on either recipe so I made both!

    Deborah,
    Thank you! Such a perfect occasion to try these recipes out!

    Dylan,
    Thank you! It is a remarkably unusual and refreshing flavor – I loved working with it!

    Monica,
    I’m embarassed that I haven’t worked with lemon verbena until now – but I’ll be making up for that in future summers!

    Peabody,
    I just couldn’t decide – and I figured you can never have enough food for a party! Thanks!

    Big Boys,
    Thank you! They were both very tasty and refreshing!

    Valentina,
    Lemon verbena appears to grow in several places around the world – perhaps it’s called something else in other places? Even though it was practically in my backyard, I still didn’t know about it – it’s like this little undercover secret:)

    Ivonne,
    Thanks to you for holding this most fabulous of parties! I’m honored to attend and amazed by all the entries! You’re the best hostess ever!

    Lis,
    My thanks to you for hosting this fabulous event – I was honored to attend and contribute! I’m amazed by the all the food – you guys certainly throw the best parties around!:) Thank you!

    Tartelette,
    Thank you! I’ve been having so much fun playing around with thie herb – my kitchen has been smelling like lemon for quite a while!

    Bri,
    Wow, so awesome your uncle has lemon verbena in his backyard – you get to take full advantage of it!:)

    Rose,
    It’s a really fabulous ice cream! And I love the idea of infusing cream or sugar syrup with it, then you can make so many other delicious things!

    Casey,
    Your granita is fabulous! Do you work at Range? I just went there a while ago and loved it!

  • Daniel Chow #20

    oh yum! this one i must give a try before summer is over. i’ve been working hard on a personal photo project and i think it’s time for a personal treat :)

  • Scott at Realepicurean #21

    Second ice cream I’ve seen today. You guys are ruining my diet!

  • J #22

    dear anita, both look so beautiful and so beautifully capture the essence of summer…ps: i can’t wait to see what you’ll be making from the new alice medrich number ;-)

  • Anita #23

    Kate,
    They do sort of look like neem leaves, don’t they? I guess they’re not native to Asia – if you come over here in the summer, you’ll have to try some!

    Daniel,
    I hope you get to try this before the end of summer, it’s a treat for sure! good luck on your photo project!

    Scott,
    This is one the most worthy ways to ruin your diet, I assure you!

    J,
    Thank you! It’s hard to know where to start with Medrich’s new book; I can’t wait to see what _you_ bake out of there as well:)

  • sarah deming #24

    just discovered your beautiful blog — thank you! i look forward to making your recipes.

    i used to work in pastry at the now-defuct verbena in gramercy park. diane forley was the chef, and she loved this herb.

    we used to make verbena madeleines, and i just found the recipe online:
    link to topchefs.chef2chef.net

    thanks again for the beautiful content,
    sarah

  • NS #25

    Anita — I first “discovered” lemon verbena in the summer of last year, and I’ve been hooked ever since — infusing it into juices, creams, cakes, and soups. It never would have occurred to me to try something like the parfait, so thanks for the inspiration!

    By the way, lemon verbena is actually available in the Bay Area quite late into the fall. I decided to prepare a pineapple lemon verbena sorbet for a dinner party last December, and I was easily able to find the herb at the Eatwell Farm stall at the SF Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. So, you can actually continue to enjoy the taste of summer all the way through the fall!

  • Anita #26

    Sarah,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog, and thanks for telling me about Verbena – I really need to go to NYC again and check out the dining scene! Thanks for the link to the madeleines too, they sound delicious and I’d love to try making them!

    NS,
    Thanks for the tip – I’m thinking I need to stock up on lemon verbena, so it’s good to know it’s still available. I guess I know where I’ll be this weekend:)P.S. I’m loving all the things you make on your blog!

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