Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on summery lemon verbena
In a corner of the garden I have a lemon verbena bush that I love for its fragrance. Touch a leaf and your fingers carry the lemony scent for hours. That characteristic is why the Spanish carried the South American native back to Europe for use in perfume making.
Sometimes I use a single leaf to decorate a lemon curd tart. Combined with mint it makes a fragrant and soothing herbal tea. (Make it in a glass teapot, the better to appreciate its light citron color.) You can also crush a couple of leaves between your fingers and add to a gin and tonic.
Just this week I came across two desserts using lemon verbena. M.B. Post in Manhattan Beach is serving strawberry-verbena shortcake with whipped vanilla cream. And Son of a Gun Restaurant on 3rd Street in L.A. has pound cake with lemon verbena cream on the menu.
The plant grows fast, almost leaping toward the sun. But in winter, the leaves fall off and it becomes a thatch of twigs. I prune it a little to give it some shape. And sure enough, every spring, my lemon verbena sprouts leaves again and blossoms. The delicate white flowers make a pretty garnish.
Verbena thrives as a potted plant, too, as long as you put it in a big enough pot. I've been wanting to plant a series of pots inspired by the profusion of lemon verbena at a luxurious bed and breakfast in Puglia in southern Italy, Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli in Marittimo di Diso.
I wanted to post a photo of tall terracotta urns that formed a screen around one of the outdoor dining areas there, but I can't find my Puglia photos. Where are those photos? I have absolutely no idea.
—S. Irene Virbila
Photo: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times