The delicacy and subtlety of a flower or herbal scent is caused by a mixture of chemical compounds which make up the essential oil. The commonest of these compounds are esters, formed from a combination of acid and alcohol. The type of alcohol contained in the essential oil is what gives a flower its characteristic scent. Leaf scents too are difficult to define, but often their essential oil is composed of only one substance. Lemon scent for example when it occurs is citral; lemon thyme, lemon scented verbena and the leaves of all citrus fruits have this scent.
The scents of our Portuguese garden have encouraged me to observe, become more aware, enjoy and indulge in these scents and to discover how they can be applied in a culinary capacity as essential essences.
What started this off was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall´s strawberry jam with sweet scented geranium leaves which featured in Episode 4 of the River Cottage 2009 season in June. - "The River Cottage Strawberry Fair". He added geranium leaves to his strawberries in the preserving pan and then added lemon juice. This idea inspired me to infuse lemon scented geranium leaves in a pannacotta mix. The result was heady and phenomenal. The infusion of the leaves without adding any extra lemon juice was sufficient and kept a mysterious subtlety. So here follows some recipes inspired by other scents in our garden.
Try crumbling lavender flowers into a bowl of mascarpone
and serve with fresh strawberries
Almondegas com Limao
These bite sized meat balls are wrapped in lemon leaves from the garden, which share their fragrance with the flavours in the meatballs. We had them, the other day, as part of a cool summer lunch in the garden.
100g day old rustic bread, torn
25o ml milk
500g minced meat of your choice
100g freshly grated parmesan
sea salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves crushed
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
grated zest of 1 lemon
24 lemon leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
24 strong toothpicks
Heat the oven to 180C /gas 4. soak the bread in the milk for 5 minutes then squeeze it dry with your hands. Mix together with the meat, cheese, seasoning, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and lemon zest. If the mixture seems heavy, add a little more milk, then roll into 24 walnut sized balls. Lightly oil both sides of each leaf, bend a leaf around each meatball and fasten with a tooth pick. Bake 30 to 40 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Serve warm in the leaves, but don´t eat the leaves!!!
Lemon scented geranium panna cotta
This is a very simple dessert to make, and it should be made in advance to allow it sufficient time to set. It sets best if made the night before. It will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge.
3 gelatine leaves
250ml double cream
250ml whole milk
25g caster sugar
couple of drops of vanilla extract
12 lemon geranium leaves
Place the gelatine leaves in bowl of cold water and leave to soften for about five minutes. Put the cream, milk, sugar, geranium leaves and vanilla in a small pan and bring gently to the boil. As soon as it begins to bubble, remove from the heat, cover with alid and leave to rest for 5 minutes. This allows the geranium to infuse. Strain the cream through a fine sieve and discard the geranium leaves. Drain the gelatine leaves and squeeze out any excess water with your hands. Add the soaked gelatine to the cream mixture and stir well, making sure that the gelatine melts completely. Pour the mixture into4 ramekins and place immediately in the fridge. Leave for aminimum of 4 hours but preferably overnight until set. To serve run a wet knife carefully round the edge of each panna cotta and then turn the ramekin upside down on to a serving plate to tip it out.
You can experiment with all sorts of different flavourings and essences.
Substitute the following for the geranium leaves: