I planted some strawberries in a pot several years ago, I never get a big yield, but I like seeing them perk back to life every Spring. Just getting a warm and flavorful strawberry jewel now and then is like getting a present, even if it is a race to get there before a bird, squirrel or chipmunk does.
That’s okay, because at the farmer’s market, these strawberries looked so very attractive in their green cardboard boxes, I wanted to inhale all of them right away.
I brought home two pints and made some pate sucree tart dough. After chilling, I rolled it out and baked it in a removable-bottom tart pan, using the leftover scraps to make a tartlet for the chef, a.k.a me.
Time to play with some flavor… I have lemon verbena in my garden and have been reading up on how to use it best. (I believe some lemon verbena ice cream and lemon verbena and mint tea is in my future…)
I infused the verbena leaves into a simple syrup with some left over vanilla bean pod scraps. At first I just chopped the verbena and was going to add it raw into my tart filling, but no matter how finely I minced it, it still had a tough bite to it, and since my filling would not be cooked either, I rough chopped it, bruised it and then infused it (sounds like I’m selling a kitchen gadget on T.V.) into hot syrup, to be sure the fragrant oil would be released and no one would be chewing on a piece of it.
The verbena in the syrup was subtle, like lemon zest with a bit of lime in the background, it would be good for adding to iced tea or lemonade. To make the tart filling, I whipped up some heavy cream and loosened up some ricotta cheese, poured some of the verbena-vanilla syrup into each (reserving some to brush over the top of the finished tart), and then folded the whipped cream into the ricotta.
It was like a giant strawberries and cream party with the cookie-like tart shell along for some crumbly crunch. I liked the ricotta cream filling, the lemony-lime fragrance of the lemon verbena and vanilla complimented the berries. The syrup and tart shell could be made and baked off the day before and the filling comes together quickly, I like that too.
Shortly after taking a pic of the big tart…
I went to put it on a plate to chill it for later, it slid off the removable bottom and I dropped it… oops! Oh well, it tasted just as good mashed up a bit, put in a glass and renamed strawberry tart trifle.
For the tart dough I used Joy of Baking’s recipe, but there are many good ones out there. I’ve also used Martha Stewart’s several times.
For the Ricotta Tart Filling:
4 or 5 lemon verbena sprigs, leaves roughly chopped and slightly bruised
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
the shavings of one scraped out vanilla bean pod, or, if you do not have any used vanilla bean pods, 1 TBS vanilla extract
1/2 pound ricotta cheese, (if excessively watery, strained)
1/2 cup whipped heavy cream
1. Make a simple syrup by bringing to boil the sugar and water. Take off heat and add chopped lemon verbena leaves, their stems and a scraped vanilla bean pod, infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out leaves and pods, add a pinch of salt and chill thoroughly. If you are using vanilla extract, add to chilled syrup.
2. In a mixer, whip heavy cream adding a quarter cup of chilled syrup before reaching stiff peaks. Set aside in another bowl.
3. Using the mixer, loosen ricotta cheese, for 20-30 seconds on medium speed, add another 1/4 cup of syrup slowly.
4. Fold cream into ricotta in thirds, being careful not to deflate the mixture.