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Lemon Verbena: My Summer Fling

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Here in Italy we are in the midst of a particularly steamy heat wave, so one of the things I've tried to do in my menus at the restaurant is lighten things up as much as possible. I always find that citrus is a great way to bring some freshness into a menu but because our fruit supply is limited and we don't grow citrus, I've had to figure out ways to recreate this flavour. As such, I would like to introduce you all to my summer fling, Lemon Verbena. 

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We don't find Lemon Verbena in the wild here but we have cultivated it for the past two seasons thanks to our good friend Alice Ruschena, who installed Casa Caponetti's herb garden. I used it frequently to make granita last year, and it was the perfect thing to cool down and reset the palate. Mostly used by chefs as an accompaniment to fish or poultry dishes, Lemon Verbena actually works really well as a sugar. It's natural citrus really sings but it still retains the green flavour. 

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This week I used Lemon Verbena sugar to make some meringues and it worked incredibly well, for two reasons. First, the lightness of the meringue is a great vehicle to carry the verbena flavour and the citrus bite coupled with the crunch of the meringue is beautifully fresh without being cloying. Second, using the verbena sugar actually brought a natural colouring to the meringue so that I didn't have to use any artificial food colours to achieve a really nice kind of pearl green finish to the meringues. 

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Summer time is really about adjusting your dishes to suit not only what's available in the garden but also what refreshes your palate and leaves you feeling satisfied but not uncomfortably full. Lemon Verbena works in so many different preparations and I've had a lot of success with it in desserts. Of course, once fall comes around it'll be gone, so revel in that summer fling while you can...