lemon verbena

Lemon verbena

photo Marina Oliphant

One of the most rewarding things for a home cook is having the luxury of fresh herbs straight from the garden. Most herbs are easy to grow in a pot with lots of sunlight and water. Lemon verbena looks lovely in a pot, where space is limited. Once in the garden, it will grow into a much larger plant.

It’s almost impossible to explain the scent of lemon verbena until you’ve actually rubbed a leaf in your hands.

Yes, it’s lemon, but there is a complexity to the fragrance that is not like any other citrus. The flavour is similarly complex, floral, sweet and lemony.

You can use lemon verbena in place of lemon zest in recipes, both sweet and savoury. In herb butter, added to fish or poultry, with vegetables and in salad dressing. Add fresh leaves to poaching syrups for a subtle lemon flavour. They make a lovely addition to homemade lemonade and are refreshing in iced tea. Finely grind fresh leaves with sugar in a mortar and pestle or food processor to make a bright green lemon flavoured sugar. Fold through whipped cream, yoghurt or mascarpone to flavour. The dried leaves highly prized and are used to make fine teas and pot pourri.

Try these easy recipes to experience this magical flavour.

Lemon verbena is a welcome addition to your kitchen garden.

lemon verbena shortbread

Shortbread requires a light touch. Don’t be tempted to knead too much and you will be rewarded with a light crumbly texture. For extra flavour, sprinkle over some lemon flavoured sugar before baking.

100g caster sugar

half cup loosely packed fresh lemon verbena leaves

200g unsalted butter, softened

300g flour

pinch salt

1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

Pulse sugar and lemon verbena leaves in a food processor until thoroughly combined and all the leaves are completely pulverised (any stringy bits of tougher leaves can be removed by hand if necessary).

Cream with butter until light and fluffy. Sieve flour with salt and mix together with creamed butter and lemon zest to make a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 160C fan forced (180C conventional). Roll out the dough on a lightly floured bench to 1cm thickness, then cut into shapes with a biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden. Remove from oven and cool.

makes 30 biscuits using a 4cm round cutter.

lemon verbena pannacotta

photo Marina Oliphant

pannacotta

This glamorous dessert is so easy to make. The addition of yoghurt cuts the richness of the cream. There are lots of different strengths of gelatine leaves, so always check the packet directions for setting quantities. You can substitute powdered gelatine if the leaves are unavailable.

½ (half) cup loosely packed fresh lemon verbena leaves

5 tbs caster sugar

2 cups (500ml) thickened cream

100ml milk

one and a half leaves gelatine (Alba gold strength)

100ml natural yoghurt

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

orange and pink grapefruit segments to serve

extra lemon verbena leaves to garnish

Tear the lemon verbena leaves in half and gently bruise with sugar in a mortar and pestle.

Heat the thickened cream and milk in a small saucepan with the lemon verbena and sugar. Remove from heat and allow the delicate flavour to infuse for 1-2 hours.

Strain mixture through a sieve and return to the heat to warm gently.

Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes to soften. Squeeze to remove excess water. Add gelatine to cream mixture and stir to dissolve.

Stir in yoghurt and add lemon zest.

Pour into small dariole moulds that have been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

Refrigerate overnight or until set.

To unmould, dip the moulds in a bowl of hot water briefly, then turn upside down onto small serving plates and shake gently to release the pannacotta.

Serve with orange and pink grapefruit segments and extra lemon verbena leaves for garnish.

serves 6.

lemon verbena sorbet

photo Marina Oliphant

This is an easy sorbet that doesn’t require an icecream maker. If you don’t have the time to make sorbet, run a fork through the frozen mixture for an instant granita.

1 cup loosely packed lemon verbena leaves, torn

1 cup caster sugar

3 cups water

1 lemon

fresh berries to serve

Place roughly torn lemon verbena leaves in a saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes until sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool completely and allow the flavour to infuse. Strain to remove leaves.

Zest and juice lemon. Strain juice into sugar syrup. Add zest and stir until combined. Pour mixture into stainless steel container and cover with foil. Freeze for 2 hours. Remove mixture from freezer and use a fork to break up ice crystals. Transfer mixture to a food processor and process until just smooth. Return mixture to freezer for 1 hour. Remove and repeat processing procedure, making sure that the mixture is not overprocessed. Return to freezer until completely frozen.

Remove from freezer and set aside for 3-5 minutes to soften slightly.

Serve with fresh berries.

Serves 6.

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