Tag Archives: herbs

Herbs in Desserts

8 Dec

Sometime in 1980, I had an extraordinary lunch at restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France.  One of the mandatory go-to restaurants on every foodie’s list, it was a shrine to gastronomy in the days of nouvelle cuisine when the world’s first celebrity chefs were French.  While there were many aspects of that 4-hour lunch that are worth a thousand words (I was there with New York master chef Richard Burns who headed the kitchens at the Palace — once the most expensive restaurant in the world!) there was one dish that stood out among all others.  It was the simplest dish of the meal, too: an apple tart with fresh tarragon.  I never forgot it. Since then (that’s 30 years ago!), I have been slipping fresh herbs into my own desserts.  I, too, now make an apple tart with tarragon plucked from my window box, and add fresh slivered basil to ripe summer peaches. And I have found pine-y rosemary to be a felicitious gracenote to sweet offerings.  I’ve concocted a dulcet gremolata (grated lemon zest, minced fresh rosemary and sugar) to adorn lemon sorbet.  I strew snippets of fresh rosemary atop an olive oil cake I invented (the only recipe I never share) and created the following dessert, which I am very happy to share, for Cooking Light magazine over a decade ago.  The recipe can also be found in my cookbook for teens called Eat Fresh Food…’cause everyone seems to love them!  These little confections magically separate into custard with a layer of cake floating on top.  The vibrant fresh flavors of lemon and rosemary make more magic in your mouth.  Sophie Hirsch, one of the teens who helped test recipes for the book, said the following.  “I loved the Rosemary Custard Cakes so much!  There was an extra one and we all fought over it.  I will make this all the time.  They are amazingly great.” I guess one is never too young to be a foodie.

Rosemary-Lemon Custard Cakes
3 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 large lemons
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary, plus small rosemary sprigs for garnishing
1-1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Separate the whites and yolks of the eggs.  Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt at medium-high speed in the bowl of electric mixture until foamy.  Slowly add the 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes.  Grate the zest of both lemons and set aside.  Cut the lemons in half and squeeze to get 1/3 cup juice.  In a separate bowl, beat together the 1/3 cup sugar and butter until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice, and rosemary.  Add the egg yolks and milk and beat well.  Use a rubber spatula and gently stir in the egg white mixture.  Spoon equally into six 5-ounce custard cups or ramekins.  Place the cups in a baking dish and add very hot water to the dish to a depth of 1 inch.  Carefully put dish in oven and bake 45 minutes until firm and golden.  Remove the dish from the oven and remove the cups from the dish.  Let cool.  Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, pushed through a sieve, and eat from the cups.  Or you can unmold from the cups: Using a butter knife, loosen the custard around the edges of the cup, place a small plate on top and turn them upside down.  Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.  Serves 6

The Window Box

8 Nov

One of the most special presents I ever received was an enormous window box made for me by my husband. It hangs outside the window of my brownstone kitchen where it soaks up the sun and, sometimes, too much rain.  Once the entire bottom of the box fell out and lots of dirt (and precious herbs!) landed in our backyard garden.  But my beloved husband simply made me another which has lasted for years and whose contents are thriving.

I’m not much of a gardener but overlooking my neighbor’s trees, flowers and well-manicured gardens, I am the master of my herbs.  What a pleasure to
pick off tiny leaves of fresh thyme, to add sprigs of fresh mint to any dessert in a moment’s notice, or muddle a few for a warm peppermint tea. More pleasure still from crumbling fragrant rosemary into a soup or stew, or to mix sweet-smelling lavender with goat cheese and spinach and stuff it under the
skin of a chicken.

One of my most requested recipes was a result, however, of the abundance of basil in that window box years ago.  Salmon with pesto and pistachios has been copied by chefs and made by home cooks alike since 1996 — when I first introduced the dish.  I simply slather a thick tranche of fatty salmon or voluptuous Chilean sea bass with homemade pesto and thickly blanket the top with freshly-ground pistachios.   It is virtually fool-proof and can even be made with a good-quality prepared pesto if you have no time to make your own.

I like to serve the fish with lemony mashed potatoes (you can use your own favorite recipe and add lots of freshly grated zest and a bit of lemon juice)  and
a pile of something  I call green bean “fries.”  Sometimes I serve a platter of “melted tomatoes” (from Recipes 1-2-3) alongside. Open a bottle of sauvignon blanc — one of those crisp, delicious ones from New Zealand or South Africa.

Chilean Sea Bass with Pistachio-Pesto Crust & Green Bean “Fries”
This is also great made with fresh salmon.   Make your own pesto (see below) or use the best-quality store-bought — fresh, bright green and herbaceous.

4 thick Chilean sea bass, or salmon, fillets (about 7 ounces each)
2/3 cup pesto (made from fresh basil)
1/2 cup finely ground pistachios
12 ounces green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Season the fish with salt and pepper and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet.  Spread fillet with pesto, about 2-1/2 tablespoons, to cover completely.  Pat the pistachios heavily on the pesto to form a crust.  Drizzle the green beans with the oil and sprinkle with
salt.  Place around the fish.  Roast for 16 minutes, until the fish is just firm.  Grate lemon zest on top.  Cut the lemon into wedges and serve with the fish and beans.  Serves 4

Pesto Presto
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried well
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 large clove garlic

Put the basil in a food processor with the cheese, oil, pine nuts, and garlic.  Process until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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