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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lemon Verbena

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Lemon verbena is a really special flowering perennial herb in season right now. It has a strong lemon flavor, but that doesn't quite cut it as a description. Lemon verbena's flavor is also rounded out by the lack of acidity that comes with lemons, and a distinctly herbal green flavor that comes from the leaves, similar to lemon basil. It's a great addition to the garden.

The oil from lemon verbena have moderate antioxidant and antibacterial properties — you'll often see lemon verbena as a scent ingredient in soaps and perfumes. It also makes a delicious tea when brewed on its own or in a mixture with other herbs. Lemon verbena is an ideal choice for simple syrups you can drizzle over fruit, mix into whipped cream or add to cocktails. A great way to enjoy the flavor is a refreshing herbal & floral ice cream.

5 ways to use fresh lemon verbena:
  • Infuse lemon verbena flavor into oil for use in your favorite recipes
  • Use your favorite white wine vinegar to extract the flavor of lemon verbena into a flavored vinegar
  • Blend lemon verbena leaves into a zingy pesto for dressing grilled vegetables or chicken
  • Add the brightness of chiffonaded lemon verbena to an aioli dressing that goes well with greens or over fish
  • Use lemon verbena as a flavor agent when brining meats or poultry before cooking

Lemon Custards with Lemon Verbena

1 cup water
14 2- to 2 1/2-inch-long fresh lemon verbena leaves
10 2 x 1/2-inch strips lemon peel (yellow part only)
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine first 3 ingredients in medium saucepan. Boil until mixture is reduced to 1/2 cup, about 4 minutes. Add sugar; simmer until mixture is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream. Whisk yolks to blend in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture. Whisk in lemon juice.

Strain custard through sieve into 4-cup measuring cup. Divide among six 2-cup ramekins or soufflé dishes. Cover ramekins with foil. Place ramekins in 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake custards until just set, about 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven; let custard cool and set up over night in the fridge. Garnish with a fresh leaf and some blueberries.