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A New Leaf

Basil sorbet? Sage-honey tart! The latest surprise in desserts is fresh herbs with fruit. A splendid thyme is guaranteed for all.


Salad at the end of the meal? That European convention has never really caught on here. But you wouldn't know it, when some of our most progressive pastry chefs are pilfering sprigs and shoots from the vegetable garden to counterbalance the sweetness of summer's ripest fruits with an herbes de Provence bouquet of complementary flavors. Mint, of course, is already pretty standard dessert material. But much more radical is the basil sorbet served with basil-roasted pineapple at Cena, a restaurant whose executive chef, Normand Laprise, routinely forages the wilds of the Northeast for edible greenery and has now evidently instructed his pastry chef, Gilles Delaloy, to follow suit. A green-basil salad and opal-basil granita add color and dimension to Delaloy's rendition of classic balsamic-tossed strawberries. And you won't find a more delectable way to dress up ice cream or angel-food cake than our recipe for plums roasted with thyme, taken from Sharon Kebschull Barrett's forthcoming book, Desserts From an Herb Garden. Lemon thyme packs no less of a citric punch in the grainy strawberry-almond gratin at Lespinasse than it does in Aureole's creamy frozen peach soufflé with herbal syrup. And in another one of Aureole's fabulous matches, sage-infused honey is drizzled over a black-raspberry-and-frangipane tart. Now, as far as finding a way to satisfy a sweet tooth with parsley . . . you're strictly on your own.

The Recipes
Unless noted, recipes serve six.

Melon Carpaccio and Mint Jus, Candied Mint Leaves, and Raspberries
Candied mint leaves:
1 bunch mint, for about 60 leaves
2 egg whites, slightly beaten by hand

1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large melons
Honey-and-lemon syrup:
1/3 cup chestnut honey
2 lemons, juiced
1 pink grapefruit, juiced
15 mint leaves, coarsely chopped
Garnish: 1/2 pint raspberries

Candied mint leaves: Remove the mint leaves from their stems, and discard the stems. Clean the leaves and pat dry. Dip each leaf in the egg whites, dry slightly on a paper towel, and immediately dip in the granulated sugar, covering both sides. Place on a wire rack and allow to dry for at least 2 hours before using. You will need about 8 to 10 leaves per plate.

Cut off the top and bottom of each melon. Use a sharp knife to cut away the remaining skin from top to bottom, following the curve of the fruit. Cut each melon in half; remove and reserve the seeds. Cut the melon into thin slices, preferably on a mandoline. Set on a platter and refrigerate until ready to use.

Honey-and-lemon syrup: Place the honey, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and mint in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the reserved melon seeds and set aside to cool. When the syrup is cold, pass through a fine sieve.

Arrange the melon slices in a circle on each of six chilled flat plates. Spoon some honey-lemon syrup over the melon. Garnish with the raspberries and candied mint leaves.

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