A New Leaf

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.

Black-Raspberry-and-Sage-Honey Tart
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup almond flour (if unavailable, finely grind 1 cup slivered almonds with 3 tablespoons of the confectioners’ sugar)
8 1/4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 ounces almond paste
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 medium eggs
Sage honey:
1/2 cup honey
5 or 6 large sage leaves, well-washed, dried, and lightly crushed
Filling: 1 1/2 pints black raspberries, well-washed and dried (blackberries can be substituted)
Garnish: 6 to 10 tiny sage leaves

Crust: Sift the flour and almond flour together. Set aside. Cream the butter in the bowl of a mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt, and beat for 3 minutes. With the mixer running, alternately add the flour mixture and about 1/4 cup ice water, mixing until the dough starts to come together. Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Frangipane: Sift the flour and set aside. Beat the almond paste and butter in the bowl of a mixer until very well blended. Add the sugar and beat for about 5 minutes or until the sugar is well incorporated. One at a time, beat in the eggs. When the mixture is well combined, beat in the flour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface into a circle about 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Fit the dough into a 10-inch tart shell with a removable bottom, trimming away excess dough. Chill for 10 to 15 minutes.

Spread the frangipane over the bottom of the tart shell to a depth of 1/4 inch. Bake in the oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the frangipane is set. (If the frangipane browns too quickly, cover with a little foil.) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Sage honey: Combine the honey and sage in a small nonstick saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Starting with the outer edge, place the raspberries on top of the frangipane in neat circles until the top is completely covered with a single layer of black raspberries. Remove the sage leaves from the honey and generously drizzle it over the top of the tart. Garnish with baby sage leaves.

Basil Sorbet With Basil-Roasted Pineapple
Serves four.
Pineapple-basil sorbet:
1/4 cups sugar
1/2 pineapple, rind, eyes, and core removed, finely diced
2 Granny Smith apples, skin on, diced fine
60 basil leaves
Scant 1/2 cup fresh pineapple juice
3/4 to 1 cup lemon juice
Roasted pineapple and brunoise:
1 medium pineapple, peeled and trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoons sugar
32 basil leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Basil sorbet: In a medium saucepan, bring 2 1/2 cups water and the sugar to a boil. Add the pineapple and apples, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add half the basil leaves. Cover, remove from heat, and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Place the mixture in a blender and puree. Add the remaining basil leaves and blend until smooth. It may be necessary to puree in several batches. Strain through a fine sieve into a stainless-steel bowl set over a bowl of ice water. When it’s cold, stir in the pineapple and lemon juices. Pour into an ice-cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Roasted pineapple: Cut the pineapple in half lengthwise, remove core, and cut each half into six segments, allowing two slices per serving.

Finely dice two of the pineapple segments, and set aside in a bowl. Place the two remaining pineapple segments in the bowl of a food processor with 8 to 10 basil leaves and pulse several times until the mixture is a light-green color. Strain through a fine sieve and add the liquid to the finely diced pineapple. Allow mixture to marinate for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. Sprinkle 4 pineapple segments with 1 teaspoon of sugar and place sugar-side-down in the pan to sear. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cover with about 10 basil leaves. Turn the pineapple segments when they brown slightly. Cook until the second side is brown and caramelized, and the basil has become crisp but remains green. Remove the pineapple and basil from the pan, and set aside on a platter. Repeat with remaining pineapple slices. (The pineapple can be seared ahead of time and reheated in the caramel just before serving.)

Leave 3 to 4 basil leaves in the saute pan and add the remaining sugar, leaving the heat high. When the sugar caramelizes, add the remaining oil and deglaze the pan with the lemon juice. Cook together for 2 minutes over low heat. (The oil will separate from the caramel.)

Arrange 2 pineapple segments on a plate with a few roasted basil leaves. Spoon a pool of the pineapple-basil brunoise next to the roasted fruit. Top with a scoop of basil sorbet. Drizzle the caramel sauce around the plate.

Lemon-Thyme Gratin of Fresh Strawberries
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons soft butter
2 cups fine almond flour (if unavailable, grind 2 1/2 cups sliced almonds with half of the sugar in a food processor)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme
Pinch salt
12 to 16 large strawberries, quartered
Garnish: Lemon-thyme sprigs and strawberry sorbet (optional)

Process the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade until thick. Add the butter in chunks, and process until combined. Add the almond flour, alternating with the lemon juice. Stir in thyme and salt.

Place six 4-inch tartlet tins on a sheet pan. Fill the bottom of the ring with the quartered strawberries, cut-side-up. Spread a 1/4-inch layer of gratin mixture over the berries. Place under a hot broiler for about 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture turns a dark golden brown (watch carefully, as it burns quickly). Invert onto a plate – the center will still be a little soft – and serve immediately with lemon thyme and, if desired, strawberry sorbet.

Balsamic Vinegar-Tossed Strawberries and Green-Basil Salad with Opal-Basil Granita
Serves four.
Candied basil leaves:
16 basil leaves
1/4 cup sugar
Opal-basil granita:
1/2 cup sugar
1 bunch opal basil, leaves removed and roughly torn into pieces, about 4 ounces
2 lemons, juiced
Strawberry juice:
2 lemons, juiced
1/4 pound strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Tossed strawberries:
24 strawberries, hulled
3 to 4 tablespoons sugar
8 green-basil and 4 opal-basil leaves, broken into pieces
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Candied basil leaves: Brush clean basil leaves lightly with water and place facedown into sugar. Dry on sheet pan, sugar-side-up, for 2 to 3 hours.

Opal-basil granita: Bring 3 1/2 cups water and the sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Add the torn opal-basil leaves, cover pan, and infuse for 15 minutes. Strain into a bowl and place over ice until cool. Add lemon juice, pour into a shallow container, and place into freezer. Every 20 minutes, stir the granita with a fork as it starts to set, about two hours.

Strawberry juice: Cut the strawberries into quarters and place in a bowl, add the sugar and lemon juice, cover with plastic, and set aside at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. Cook, covered with plastic, in a bain-marie set over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Strain through a fine sieve. Do not press down on the strawberries, as this will make the juice cloudy.

Tossed strawberries: Place the strawberries into bowl and toss gently with the sugar. Add the green-basil leaves and allow to sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vinegar, and toss gently again. Set aside to marinate for 3 minutes. Place the strawberries in a soup bowl, and drizzle the balsamic vinegar remaining in the bowl over the strawberries. Place candied basil leaves around the strawberries. Pour a little strawberry juice in a glass, and top with the opal-basil granita. Garnish with broken opal-basil leaves and serve alongside whole strawberries.

Thyme-Roasted Plums
Serves four.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons minced thyme leaves
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 1/2 pounds red plums (about 10), halved and pitted
Dash fresh lemon juice (optional)
Garnish: Ice cream, angel-food cake, or pound cake (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (425 degrees if using a glass baking pan). Bring 1 cup water, sugar, thyme leaves, and orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan. Arrange plums skin-side-up in a 9-inch-square baking pan or other pan just large enough to hold them in one layer. Pour sugar mixture over plums. Bake for 25 minutes, until plums are tender (skins may split). Pour liquid from pan back into saucepan and boil for about 5 minutes, until it reduces to a thin syrup.

Meanwhile, wipe off excess thyme leaves from plums and discard thyme.

Pour the syrup through a strainer over plums and allow to cool slightly before serving; taste syrup, and add lemon juice if needed to balance sweetness. Serve warm – plain, over ice cream, or with angel-food cake or pound cake on the side.

(From Desserts From an Herb Garden, by Sharon Kebschull Barrett. Reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press.)

Frozen Georgia-Peach Souffle
1 1/2 pounds very ripe Georgia peaches, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon very finely minced fresh lemon thyme
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
6 very small sprigs fresh lemon thyme
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Lemon thyme-citrus syrup (recipe below)

Combine the peaches with the minced lemon thyme, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes or until peaches are very soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Cut six 14-inch-by-7-inch strips of cooking parchment. Fold the strips in half lengthwise and wrap them around six 6-ounce souffle dishes to come up about 3/4 inch above the top of each dish. Fold the ends of each strip together, and pinch to close firmly. Set aside.

When the peach mixture is cool, push it through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Discard the solids remaining in the sieve. Set the peach puree aside.

Combine the egg yolks, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup of sugar in the top half of a double boiler over simmering water. (Keep the pan clear of the water.) Cook, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes or until a candy thermometer inserted into the yolk mixture reads 170 degrees. Immediately whisk in the yogurt, and remove the top half of the double boiler from the heat. Quickly scrape the mixture into the large bowl of a mixer and beat, using the whisk attachment, until it’s light yellow, very thick, and cool to the touch. Set aside.

Combine the heavy cream with the remaining sugar, and beat with a mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold the cooled egg mixture into the whipped cream. When well blended, fold in the cooled peach puree.

Spoon the souffle mixture into the prepared dishes, allowing the mixture to come to the top of the parchment. Using a spatula, smooth the tops and cover with plastic film. Place in the freezer for at least 4 hours or until solid.

When ready to serve, carefully remove and discard the parchment wraps. Quickly dip souffles in hot water and unmold. Allow them to sit until slightly softened.

Place a souffle in the center of each of six well-chilled dessert plates, and tuck a lemon-thyme sprig into each. Drizzle the lemon thyme-citrus syrup around the edge of each plate and serve.

Lemon Thyme-Citrus Syrup
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh lemon thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Combine the wine, lemon and orange juices, sugar, lemon thyme, mint, and orange zest in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by one half and is syrupy. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean container. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

A New Leaf