Monday, August 29, 2011

Simple Pleasures of Summer

One of the benefits of travel is getting inspired by new sights, sounds and tastes. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood did just that on a recent trip down south and brought back an easy way to sweeten the last days of summer.

We’re just back after spending a long weekend in San Francisco; we ate a lot, but I didn’t do much cooking. We did drink many delicious cocktails with Joe (he works at the world’s best rum bar, Smugglers Cove), and while I’m not much of cocktail innovator myself, I’ve often thought this lemon verbena syrup could be put to good use in something alcoholic. It makes iced tea wonderful, and I’ve used it to make sorbet. Or mix a little into creme fraiche to top grilled fruit.

The compounds that give verbena its unique flavor are heat sensitive, so any kind of hot water extraction is less than satisfying. I learned this cold water technique from Jerry Traunfeld when he was chef at the Herb Farm. It captures that unique lemon verbena flavor.

Lemon Verbena Simple Syrup

The most difficult thing about making this is finding the lemon verbena.* I’ve never seen any for sale fresh, so you either need to be growing it yourself or know somebody who’s got a plant. Once you get over the acquisition hurdle, the rest is easy.

Combine a handful of fresh lemon verbena leaves with a cup or so of sugar in the food processor. Hit the “on” button and process until the leaves are nothing but green flecks in the sugar.

Blend the now greenish sugar into about the same amount of cold water (roughly a cup if you used a cup of sugar). Stir well for a few minutes so the sugar is completely dissolved. Strain the syrup through a clean dish towel or several layers of cheesecloth; discard the solids. The syrup will keep refrigerated for several weeks.

* Lemon balm, or melissa officinalis, also known as lemon mint, is not related to verbena. It grows like a week in my yard and, though he's not familiar with it for this purpose, Jim says it's worth a try. I'll keep you posted, and do chime in if you've used it for syrup.

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