If only for the fresh-cut citrus scent that's released when you brush up against it, it's worth growing lemon verbena. In one season, a four-inch pot will become a five-foot shrub that you can prune into a graceful tree shape. The narrow, pointed leaves are about two inches long and so fragrant that you don't need to crush or bruise them to release the aroma. In summer, when the plant puts out delicate white flowers, the branches are handsome in flower arrangements.
Pouring a hot wine syrup over lemon verbena leaves extracts their seductive fragrance. Then you can chill the syrup and spoon it over ripe summer fruit. At the farmers' market, look for fruit at peak ripeness: figs that have that drop of sweet nectar at the flower end and nectarines and berries that smell wonderful. As for wine, I would use a delicate white such as a Chenin Blanc, Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Some Chardonnays may be too oaky, some Sauvignon Blancs too grassy or tart.
1 cup dry white wine (see recipe introduction)
1/3 cup sugar
12 to 16 fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 large nectarine, pitted and sliced
4 large fresh green figs, quartered
half a box (1/2 cup) raspberries
half a box (1/2 cup) blackberries
Combine wine, sugar and 1 cup water in a small pot. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer until reduced to 1 cup. Put 12 verbena leaves in a bowl and pour the syrup over them. Stir, let steep 5 minutes, then taste. Add a few more lemon verbena leaves if syrup doesn't seem flavorful enough. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold.
Divide the fruit evenly among 4 balloon wineglasses. Just before serving, strain the wine syrup to remove the lemon verbena leaves, then pour 1/4 cup syrup over each portion of fruit. Alternatively, put all the fruit in a glass compote and pour all the syrup over it. Serve immediately.
Fresh From the Farmers' Market
by Janet Fletcher
1997; $19.95 paperback
Recipes and photos reprinted by permission.
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