Lemon Verbena and Thyme Soda Syrup, and Sorbet too!

Our herb garden is growing like weeds.  Well, truth be told, the weeds are also growing like weeds.  But between the weeds are fragrant, mystical herbs, that are spicing up meals and will also shortly be hoarded away in ziplocks in the freezer for less bountiful months.

My favorite herb is lemon verbena.  It smells like something that should come from a much more tropical locale--even the plant, with its woody stems and slender leaves, looks rainforesty.  Rubbing your fingers on one of the leaves, as I do at the start of many days, is an instant antidepressant.  Bright, intensely fragrant, with an aroma and flavor that is distinctly the sweeter side of citrus.  Too much and it can make a dish taste like bad perfume, in the right amounts it is transporting.

My husband's favorite herb is thyme.  It definitely stems (pun intended) from his early childhood-rooted love affair with weekly roast chickens.  He painstakingly freezes bunch upon bunch of this savory treasure and stuffs several sprigs under the skin of our weekly roast chickens through the year--as well as it being used in our homemade soups and beloved stocks.

So this recipe is a love letter to our favorite herbs.  Citrus and thyme marry beautifully, fortunately for us, and both herbs are in great abundance now and for the next couple of months in gardens and markets.  A not-too-sweet aromatic addition to sodas and cocktails, and a refreshing palate cleanser when spun into a sorbet or scraped into a granita.  Try any of the above with a few fresh berries, oh my.


Roasted Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Our 52 heirloom tomato plants are in their final days, but have heroically yielded hundreds of pounds of beautiful fruit this year.  A very triumphant relief, following the yield of six (yes, just six) tomatoes we got from the same number of plants last summer in the throws of the huge tomato blight.  We are still managing to gather buckets of red, orange, and golden cherry tomatoes almost daily, though are even a little tomatoed-out after weeks and weeks of eating nothing but.

This roasted tomato vinaigrette is one of our favorites, and so much so it was served over sliced local tomatoes at our wedding three Augusts ago, and printed on the back of the menu.  As the weather gets cooler, and I automatically start to crave autumn foods, this hanger-on recipe from summer works beautifully over sauteed hearty greens, the last of the zucchini and summer squash, grilled pork, chicken or fish, as a tangy base for a stew, as well as a dressing for a simple green salad.  I also love to can a few pints of it in our pressure canner to wake up meals, or dip crusty bread in, in the dreary days of winter.

Makes approximately 2 cups

Cherry Tomatoes, 3 cups
Garlic, 2 cloves, peeled
Thyme, 2 sprigs
Fresh Oregano Leaves, 1 tsp (or 1/3 tsp dried)
Olive Oil, 3 TBS, plus more to taste
Vinegar (Red Wine, Sherry, Balsamic), 2-3 tsp
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 350 °F.

In a baking dish, combine whole cherry tomatoes with the garlic cloves, thyme, oregano, and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Mix well to evenly coat with the oil.

Bake until tomatoes are soft, but still hold their shape, approximately 30 minutes, depending on ripeness. Allow to cool. Carefully remove any thyme leaves from the stems that are still attached, and discard stems.

Put roasted tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and any juices from the dish into a blender. Puree. Add vinegar and pulse to combine. Taste and adjust salt or vinegar, if needed. Additional oil can be added if dressing feels too loose or too acidic.

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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