Saturday, May 24, 2014


According to this new cookbook, the soul of Spain is not found in its literature, poetry or music, not in flamenco, nor bullfighting, certainly not in the Church. The soul of Spain is its sausage! Charcutería, the art and skill of curing meat, is the soul of Spain, claims Jeffrey Weiss, chef and author of CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN (Surrey Books-Agate; 2014).

Jeff discovered the Spanish soul a few years ago when he won a scholarship from the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) to spend a year in Spain getting to know Spanish products while working in the kitchens of top restaurants. One of Jeff’s most memorable experiences from that year was participating in a typical matanza, or hog butchering, in Extremadura. Inspired by traditional ham and sausage production, since returning to the US, he’s been pursuing Spanish sausage-making, which he declares is too little-known in America. The book grew out of that dedication. Jeff currently is chef at Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar in Pacific Grove, CA., where he serves Spanish-inflected snacks, charcuterie, small plates, entrees, sides and desserts. 

A sabia (expert sausage maker), tying off links. (Photo by Nathan Rawlinson.)

In the book, Jeff gets the sausage and dick jokes out of the way quickly. To hear him tell it, the sabias, the women who know how just how much salt and pimentón to add to the grind, are cracking wise about how small his sausage is, whether it needs massaging. When he gets down to the matanza at hand—an intense, draining and days long affair, he says, with sharp implements, the capacity to witness death and a good amount of blood required—there is no joking here, but much respect for the people and the animals involved.

Each chapter describes a curing process and its uses with recipes incorporating the cured foods. So, for example, under Salmueras y Salazones (brines and salt cures) are steps to produce your own panceta (pancetta or pork belly) or whole ham. Right down to the quantity of salt and the time to cure and air-dry them. Here, too, is absolutely everything about how the famed Ibérico ham is produced—from the pigs to the dehesa where they fatten on acorns to the slaughter and curing.  

The chapter on Embutidos (literally, anything stuffed in a casing, thus “sausages”) surveys just about all the regional variations. Some of these, writes Jeff, are vastly different and wholly unique compared to what you will find anywhere else in the world.

Butifarra, chistorra, botillo, bull, morcilla, patatera, fuet and, of course, chorizo are demystified. While you may never intend to make your own sausages, the recipes for cooking with them are fabulous—chorizo al infierno, flamed with orujo brandy; Barcelona canelones, with a filling that includes sausage, liver, chicken and veal; garbanzos with butifarra negra that includes raisins, sweet wine, spinach and mint; Nacho Manzano’s Asturian fabada; carcamusa, a pork “chili;” cocido madrileño, a grand one-pot feast, and Tolosa black beans with sausages.

This book should have been released in the fall or winter, season of hog butchering, when fatty, porky dishes are especially appealing. Nevertheless, the book surprises with its selection of non-meat recipes, included because they use many of the same techniques that are used in curing meat.

For example, in the chapter on Salmueras y Salazones (brines and salt cures) are recipes for salt cod in three classic Basque sauces, pil pil, verde and vizcaina; Catalan salads with salt fish, such as xató and esqueixada, and asparagus topped with mojama (air-dried tuna) and a perfect fried egg—“sexy, runny, crispy.” In the Adobo chapter is a take on cazón en adobo (marinated, fried shark), using chickpea flour. (I’ll be trying that one.) And, in Escabeche, recipes for mushroom or mussel escabeche alongside a classic partridge escabeche that Jeff learned to make at Restaurante Adolfo in Toledo, one of the restaurants where he interned during that year in Spain.

There are also chapters on Conservas y Confits, Pâtés y Terrinas (with a recipe for Arzak’s sensational pastel de cabracho, a fish terrine); Guarniciones y Salsas (including recipes for sweet-pickled garlic and for Almagro pickled eggplant), and Postres y Licores (including wonderful perunillas, cookies made with lard, a by-product of the matanza).

The professional cook or dedicated amateur will appreciate this book’s precision. The book describes the difference between European and American butchering, how a pig is broken down into parts. There are classifications—fresh, semi-cured, cooked and dry-cured sausages. Here are detailed instructions about types of knots for tying off sausages, equipment and the “secrets and science of charcutería “ (precise measurements and exact temperatures make a difference), with the curing salts needed for safe processing and where to get them.

But, Charcutería—The Soul of Spain has much to love for a home cook like me who may never attempt to make sausage from scratch.

The book has a forward by well-known chef José Andrés. Jeff worked for José early in his cheffing career and José helped him get the ICEX scholarship that got him to Spain. The fabulous evocative photos by Nathan Rawlinson shot on location in Spain capture authenic scenes of matanzas, kitchens, cooks, Ibérico pigs. 

Jeff will be cooking for an event at the James Beard House, New York, on 27 June. See the information about that dinner here .

Butifarra, a Catalan sausage.

I chose a recipe from Charcutería—The Soul of Spain for Trinxat, sausage-cabbage-potato cakes, that is satisfying, but light enough for warm weather. It calls for butifarra, a Catalan sausage, that is also good grilled over charcoal. (Yes, you can buy butifarra in the US.)

“This Catalan dish,” writes Jeff, “is part of a long line of European cabbage and potato mash-ups, including comfort-food favorites like the English bubble and squeak, Swiss rösti, Irish colcannon—the list goes on.

“These recipes have common ground. They’re an easy way to use up leftovers, particularly back in the days when refrigeration was scarce and food was never wasted. This Trinxat recipe is especially porky and delicious with the inclusion of butifarra.

“Also, I say, go big or go home—take the time to fry the cabbage cakes in foaming butter, like a real fine-dining cook. Worry about the calories another day.”

Rendered ibérico lard.

Uh-oh. Sorry, Jeff. I wussed out here. No butter has crossed my threshold in several years. So, instead of a “fine-dining cook,” I am a down-home olive oil and lard type. I bought a hunk of Ibérico pork fat (I live in Spain, so that was easy to source) and rendered it down to make lard to use in the Sofrito. I did take Jeff’s suggestion for serving the cakes with an acidic salad, of oranges and spring onions.

Sausage-Cabbage-Potato Cakes
(Recipe excerpted from CHARCUTERÍA--THE SOUL OF SPAIN.)

Sausage-cabbage-potato cakes with orange salad.

Note: This dish is pretty heavy, so it goes well with an acidic salad to cut its richness. Otherwise, definitely serve it as they do in the mountains, with a garlicky alioli for dipping.

4 entrée servings

½ cup Basic Sofrito (recipe below)
1 head napa or savoy cabbage, cored and cut into medium dice
1.1  pounds medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium dice.
Water, to cover
Kosher salt, to taste
½ cup + 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed
2  Butifarra Blanca or Negra sausages, removed from the casing and crumbled
White pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
All-purpose flour, as needed
Unsalted butter, as needed

In a large saucepan, prepare the Basic Sofrito, using manteca as the fat and including the garlic, bay leaf and panceta options from the recipe. Remove from the heat, transfer the sofrito to a mixing bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pan.

In the same saucepan, cover the cabbage and potatoes with cold water. Season with salt until the water tastes like the ocean, and bring the water to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Drain but reserve the veggies in the pot.

Return the saucepan to medium heat and stir the veggies until you see that all of the residual water has evaporated. Once the mixture is dry, remove from the heat. Transfer the vegetables to a large mixing bowl.

Make cakes and place on a tray.
Using a potato masher, mash the cabbage and potatoes and set aside to cool to room temperature (the more steam that is released, the less moisture will remain).

In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the ½ cup of oil until rippling but not smoking. Add the sausages and sear, breaking them up with a spoon, for 8 to 10 minutes, until thoroughly cooked. Stir and add the reserved sofrito. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until simmering.

Add the contents of the sauté pan to the bowl containing the veggies. Mix well. Taste and season the mixture with the salt, white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, or until cool.

Set a baking sheet on the counter. Using a ½-cup measure, scoop out some of the mixture and form it into a ball. Place the ball on a clean work surface. Smash the ball down to form a cake-like shape (like a crab cake). Rest the cake on the baking sheet. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used. Lightly dust the Trinxat cakes with the flour and set aside.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil until rippling. Fry the Trinxat cakes in the sauté pan for 8 to 10 minutes, until seared on one side. Flip the cakes, add 2 tablespoons of the butter to the pan and baste with a spoon, “fine-dining style.” Cook for 6 to 8 minutes on the second side, until warmed through. Repeat as needed for the remaining cakes. Serve hot.


Sofrito--fried onions, garlic, tomatoes.
Sofrito, one of the keys to Spanish cuisine, is a word that pops up in every language spoken in the country. Whether it’s called a sofrito in Castellano, a sofregit in Catalan, a rustido in Gallego, or sueztitua in Euskadi, it’s going to be some combination of onions, garlic, and tomatoes cooked in fat to varying degrees of jam-like consistency. Stemming from the verb sofreir, which means “to fry lightly,” the sofrito is an exercise in patience and finesse. It’s all about listening, smelling and slowly cooking the aromatics down in hot fat; about knowing when to add the various components and about understanding the depth of flavor you want to achieve.

Note: Sofritos are not just personal recipes. They’re typically tailored to their end purpose, so feel free to add any of the optional ingredients, depending on what goes best with the recipe your Sofrito will play a part in.

Extra virgin olive oil, unsalted butter or melted manteca (pork lard), as needed
5 medium yellow onions, peeled, destemmed and cut into small dice
Kosher salt, as needed
3 plum tomatoes, halved and grated on the medium holes of a grater, liquid reserved
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cloves garlic, grated on a Microplane
2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and cut into small dice
2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into small dice
3 medium piquillo peppers, cut into small dice
1 medium chile pepper, such as Fresno or Anaheim, cut into small dice
2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut into small dice
3 ½ ounces (100 g) Jamón or Panceta Curada

1 fresh bay leaf
¼ cup (65 g) tomato paste
1 tablespoon cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon fennel seed, toasted and ground

Cover the bottom of a medium saucepan with ¼ inch of the fat of your choice (basically, you want the entire bottom of the pan covered with a layer of fatty goodness). Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and warm the fat for 4 to 6 minutes, until rippling but not smoking and moving freely in the pan.

Add the onions and any of the optional ingredients from Group 1 to the saucepan. Season liberally with the salt.

Lower the heat to medium and cook the sofrito, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 45 minutes (depending on how far you wish to brown the onions: At 15 minutes, they’re wilted, and at 45, they’re wonderfully browned). Add small amounts of water as needed to keep the browning consistent, or just adjust the heat accordingly.

Once the onions have reached the desired color, add the tomatoes and their liquid and any of the optional ingredients from Group 2. Stir to incorporate.

Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has a jam-like consistency. Taste the sofrito and season to taste with the salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Chill in the refrigerator overnight. Once chilled, the sofrito can be refrigerated for a week or held frozen for up to 4 months.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Annie pours Sherry in the kitchen.
Annie opens a bottle of chilled manzanilla Sherry and pours a round. It’s our first copa of the day, after completing the messy task of gutting and boning a heap of silvery fresh anchovies.

This is fish day at Annie B’s cooking class in the white village of Vejer de la Frontera (Cádiz province, Andalusia). Annie B is Anne Manson, who left her corporate catering company in London to move to Spain. She fell in love with an 18th century house in Vejer, turned the salon into a big kitchen and has been hosting cooking courses and Sherry tasting classes ever since.

Market orientation with Annie, in Barbate.
We start our day at the mercado de abastos, main market, in the nearby port town of Barbate, tagging along with Annie from seafood stalls to produce stands. Annie selects four gorgeous fish—two types of bream and two types of sea bass. We are going to bake all four in a crust of sea salt, so Annie tells the vendor to gut the fish but leave head, scales and fins intact.

At another stall we buy boquerones, fresh anchovies, and at yet another, clams. At a fruit and vegetable stand, Annie buys bunches of skinny asparagus spears to roast as a side dish and strawberries grown in nearby Conil to serve with cake. The vendor cuts open a small yellow melon and hands out samples to our group. So sweet. I buy one for the next day’s breakfast.

Local produce at the Barbate market.
Back at the capacious kitchen table, Annie gives us the day’s recipes. This four-day course is called “Mediterranean Low-Carb Delicious,” presenting appetizing and healthful summer dishes that are mainly gluten-free. “No bread today,” Annie reminds us. Our first task is to mix up a flourless chocolate and almond cake so it can bake while we get on with other prepping.

“This cake is the only thing I make that’s not with olive oil,” says Annie, as she creams butter and sugar in a blender. One of us whizzes almonds, cocoa and chocolate in a food processor.

Mixing up a flourless chocolate-almond cake.
She shows how to line a springform mold. Annie, who is Scottish, calls it a “spring tin,” with Bakewell paper (baking parchment to Americans). A few “conversions” of measures and nomenclature must be negotiated. We are all women in the class—two Canadians, an American, four from England (one via Hong Kong, another via Almería, Spain). (Two men have accompanied their wives to Vejer, but are not joining the cooking class.)

Once the cake is in the oven (Annie sets a timer, but she advises, “You’ll know it’s done when you press it, it springs back like the tip of your nose.”) we are introduced to a classic Andalusian dish, ajo blanco, a white garlic cold soup made with almonds. Annie’s version is made without bread. Lots of almonds and, a secret ingredient, apples, gives the soup consistency.

Take the center out of garlic cloves.
Annie shows how to remove the inner green shoot from each garlic clove, to avoid any bitterness. She also points out that, once peeled, apples turn dark. “Their skins protect them from oxidizing. It’s like Sherry fino, the layer of yeast that forms on the top keeps the wine from oxidizing.”

Chopping apples, garlic, to blend with almonds for soup.

We taste the soup. Wow! that’s a powerful wallop of garlic! Although only two cloves were used, the flavor is biting. Then Annie adds a spoonful of salt and a splash of Sherry vinegar. Another taste. The vinegar balances the sweetness of the apples and tames the sharpness of the garlic. Annie has her vinegar in a spray bottle and gives us a squirt on the back of our hands to taste. What a good idea, the spray bottle.

The ajo blanco goes into the fridge to chill. It will be served garnished with frozen grapes, a nice touch.

We whip up a quick salsa verde (green sauce) to serve with our main fish dish. Extra virgin olive oil into the blender, then spinach, parsley, mint, oregano, capers, Dijon mustard and a squirt of lemon. “Always start by blitzing the olive oil,”says Annie, “then add the herbs gradually to the oil. That way you’re extracting the herbs’ flavor, not their bitterness.”

Annie shows how to fillet an anchovy.
Preparing fresh anchovies.
And, it’s on to the anchovies. Annie demonstrates how to pinch off the heads, remove the guts and lift out the spines. Easy-peasy, but messy. We are all game to try. “When you finish, I’ll serve the Sherry,” she tells us. The anchovies are layered with salt and white wine vinegar. They will marinate overnight, then get dressed with olive oil and chopped garlic and parsley.

Annie keeps aside some of the anchovies, dusts them lightly with flour and pan-fries them in an instant. Along with mojama, thinly sliced air-dried tuna, we enjoy our first nibbles served with the manzanilla, a Sherry from Sanlucar de Barrameda.

Annie, who is a qualified Sherry educator (she also has a cooking and Sherry course), tells us a little about this famous Andalusian wine. “If you go into a bar and ask for a “Sherry,” they’ll just look at you blankly. You have to be specific—a manzanilla, a fino, an amontillado, a palo cortado.”

The first pour is La Guita Manzanilla from Sanlucar de Barrameda, followed by fino Domecq la Janda from Jerez and Gutierrez Colosia Fino from El Puerto de Santa María. We have triangulated the Sherry region nicely.

Jenny samples the clams with Sherry.

While we are sipping, Annie’s assistant, Pepi, prepares her version of almejas a la marinera, clams in wine sauce. Instead of diced ham, this version has a spoonful of pimentón de la Vera, smoked paprika. The wine, of course, is Sherry. The sauce is so delicious that Annie relents and gives us some chunks of bread to mop up the juices.

Glistening fresh sea bass, one of four fish to be baked in salt.

Now, it’s on to the plato principal! Four fish baked in salt.  Annie does the first one, showing how to place it on a bed of coarse sea salt, then cover it with salt, leaving a fin sticking up and an eye uncovered. “They are your thermometer,” she explains. “If you can easily pull out the fin, it’s done. If the eye is white and opaque, the fish is cooked.”

Hands-on, patting sea salt on the fish. (From left, Jenny, Geraldine, Helen and Sue.)

View from the roof terrace--Vejer spreads out, the Atlantic coast beyond.
While the fish bakes, it’s time to climb the steps to the top of the house, where lunch is served on the roof terrace. What a view! We look out on rooftops of the village of Vejer and, almost visible in the haze, the Atlantic ocean. We enjoy the chilled ajo blanco soup, served into short glasses, garnished with frozen grapes.

Crack the salt crust to spoon out moist fish. (From left, Carol, Annette, Geraldine, Jenny.)
Scooped off the bones, moist fish.
Back in the kitchen, the trays of baked fish are resting. We gather round to crack the hard salt casing, lift it off with the skin and scales, then scoop the moist flesh onto serving dishes.

To finish, we have the chocolate-almond cake with Sherry-soaked raisins spooned over, a dollop of crème fraiche and the sweetest strawberries ever. Gorgeous with a copita of PX, a liquid raisin wine.

Carol enjoys cake and PX wine.
The cooking class and lunch is supposed to finish by 4:30, but it’s almost 6 pm before we wend our way down village streets to our hotels. And, we’ll be meeting again in a few hours for a tapas crawl in Vejer bars with Annie.

Streets of Vejer.

Ajo Blanco
Chilled White Garlic and Almond Gazpacho

Serves 4.

½ medium apple, peeled, quartered and cored
100 grams blanched almonds (3 ½ ounces)
2 medium peeled garlic cloves, center stalk removed
300 ml bottled water (1 ¼ cups)
75 ml fruity extra virgin olive oil (1/3 cup)
1 ½ tablespoons Sherry vinegar

Wash and cut the grapes in half, de-seed and freeze.

Put the almonds, garlic and half the apple in a blender and whiz until paste is formed.

With the motor running slowly, add the water. Add the oil and vinegar. Finally add the remaining apple to allow for some crunchy texture. Season with salt.

Transfer to pitcher or bowl and chill for 2 hours.

Serve with frozen grapes.

Flourless Chocolate and Almond Cake

This dense chocolate cake is served topped with raisins that have been soaked in sweet PX Sherry. Annie keeps a jar of them macerating all the time, adding more wine or raisins as they are used.

Serves 6-8.

50 grams cocoa powder ( ½ cup + 1 tbsp)
100 grams dark chocolate (3 ½ ounces)
120 grams peeled almonds (4 ounces)
100 grams butter (3 ½ ounces)
100 grams sugar (9 tablespoons)
3 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
Icing sugar

Raisins macerated in Pedro Ximenez Sherry
Crême Fraiche

In a food processor, blend the chocolate and cocoa with the almonds into a grainy mixture. Pour into a bowl.

In the same blender, cream the butter and the sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time and mix in the chocolate almond mixture until well combined.

Coat a 20-22cms (8-9 in) spring tin with bakewell paper. Fill with the chocolate mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Turn onto a serving dish, cool and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

Serve with crême fraiche and PX soaked raisins.

Check out Annie’s web site for dates of upcoming cooking courses.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


I’ve just come back from a trip to the Atlantic coast, beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, to the coastal towns of Tarifa, Zahara de los Atunes, Barbate, Conil de la Frontera and, inland, Vejer de la Frontera, where the almadraba, or tuna fishing season, has just begun. 

The almadraba in Spain is a very ancient way of fishing tuna. The Phoenicians, who colonized southern Spain more than 3000 years ago, devised a system of capturing the tuna as they migrated from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

Roman ruins at Baelo Claudio, an early fish processing factory.
The Romans, too, fished their way along this coast. Situated right on the wind-swept beach of Bolonia, near Tarifa in the Straits of Gibraltar—the southernmost tip of Europe—are the ruins of Baelo Claudio, a fairly substantial town that thrived from the 2nd century BC until 2nd century AD.

Temples, market, forum, amphitheater make up excavated ruins. Beside the sea, are pits where tuna and fish entrails were brined, fermented and seasoned, producing garum, the salsa of the ancients. Packed in amphorae, this gourmet product was shipped back to Rome.

The almadraba nets, forming long chambers like an interconnected series of corrals, are anchored to the bottom fairly close to the coast. Tuna swimming through on their spring migration to spawn in the Mediterranean are trapped in the nets. Once the huge fish are trapped in the final chamber, fishermen in boats pull the net into a tightening circle. The men raise the net, gaffe the tuna and haul them on board.

The nets allow smaller fish to escape. None weighing under 70 kilos (154 pounds) are captured, with most of the catch weighing in between 180 and 200 kilos (400-440 pounds). The average age of the fish is 14 years, meaning they have completed several reproductive cycles. (I got this up-to-date information from a new magazine called Oro Rojo, La revista del Atún.)

Since 2007, the almadraba catch is controlled and subject to strict quotas imposed by ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas). Due to indiscriminate overfishing, the Atlantic bluefin tuna (in Spanish known as atún rojo or “red tuna”) is in danger of extinction. Yet the local fishing industry claims that almadraba fishing is sustainable and feels it is being unfairly restricted for the sins committed by rapacious high-tech “factory” fishing fleets. It is estimated that only 0.01 percent of the tuna that migrate through the Straits are captured in the coastal almadraba.

As much as 80 percent of the almadraba catch is bought up by Japanese entrepreneurs and shipped, frozen, to Tokyo. What’s left goes to local markets, restaurants, tapa bars and canneries.

Different cuts of tuna at Barbate market.

In the mercado de abastos, town market, of Barbate, the home port of the almadraba boats, I found several vendors specializing in fresh tuna, showing all the many cuts as well as hearts, parts and pouches of tuna roe (eggs). Ventresca, the fatty tuna belly, looked gorgeous.

Tuna belly with thick rim of fat.

Loin and other cuts of fresh tuna.

At a nearby shop displaying dozens of tuna products in cans and jars, I bought a jar of tuna preserved in Ibérico pork lard. Something new and unusual to try. Maybe heaped on hot toast? Ventresca canned in olive oil will make a marvelous niçoise salad. Mojama, salted, air-dried tuna, thinly sliced and dressed with olive oil, will make a lovely aperitif with dry Sherry.

Carpaccio of fresh tuna (thinly sliced raw tuna).
While on a tapas crawl in the nearby town of Vejer, I sampled both traditional and vanguardista dishes with tuna. Very enjoyable was the carpaccio of fresh tuna at Casa Varo   Fresh tuna is flash-frozen (the method is Japanese), so there’s no risk of ingesting parasites in raw fish.

Grilled tuna in a summer salad.

Tuna with capers.

Back in my own kitchen, I am grilling a thick slab of tuna “loin.” The leftovers make fabulous summer salads.

There are tuna tasting festivals in Conil, Zahara de los Atunes and Barbate from now until June 9.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Hierba luisa (lemon verbena), a new herb to try.

After I wrote about capers last week, I decided I really had to have a caper plant. So, off to a vivero (nursery gardens) I went. I got my caper bush, which has a few teensy buds on it.

But, of course, I came home with much more than that. The caper plants were smack in the middle of flats of all sorts of herbs, culinary and aromatics.

For sure, I need to replace an oregano plant that had been lost from lack of water. And, must have some fresh dill for spring. Look at this gorgeous purple basil—it’s sensational in summer salads.
Basil adorns watermelon salad.

Lavender? I’ve never grown lavender before.

Oh, here is some hierba luisa, lemon verbena. I once had a lemon verbena bush in the garden where I lived in the village and loved using the fragrant leaves for making infusiones, herbal teas. Onto the cart it goes.

Herbal border--at the top, manzanilla (chamomile); center, romero (rosemary); below, tomillo (thyme) and santolina, an aromatic not used in the kitchen.

Once home with my pots, I must decide where to plant them out. The oregano will join the herbal border by the front steps.

Chives in flower.
Cilantro (coriander leaves).
The dill goes in a pot on the patio, next to the parsley, cilantro, mint and chives. They are steps away from the kitchen, so I snip one or another every day.

Before I even decide where to plant the lemon verbena, I have snipped off some leaves, infused them in milk and whipped the flavored milk with mascarpone (about ¼ cup of the milk to 1 ¼ cups mascarpone) to make a gorgeous cream to serve with sliced peaches. The flavors and aromas enhance each other.

For the lemon verbena-infused milk: Bring 1 cup milk to a boil with 1 tablespoon sugar and a strip of lemon zest. Remove from heat and add ¼ cup loosely packed lemon verbena leaves. Cover and steep until milk is cool. Strain the milk and discard the solids. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. Add the flavored milk to desserts such as pudding, ice cream. 

Mascarpone cream with lemon verbena tops sliced peaches and strawberries.

Other ideas for using lemon verbena: make a sugar syrup infused with the leaves. Add to ice tea or vodka. Serve chopped fresh leaves as a garnish for chicken or fish. Infuse chicken or fish stock with the leaves before using it to make sauce. 

Salvia (sage), part of herbal border.

Tomillo (thyme), beginning to flower. My favorite herb.