It goes without saying that it is only worth grilling apricots if they are of best quality and perfectly ripe. The fruit is never peeled. Apricots are quite acidic and need more sugar than other stone fruit.
The lemon-scented verbena bush is such a delight. It flowers right through spring and summer. The delicate sprays of pale-mauve flowers are held on long elegant arching stalks, perfect for a scented bouquet for a bedroom or bathroom. Do pick a spray to garnish each plate. Any extra ice-cream should be stored in a container with a well-fitting lid without too much extra space. It will be perfect for at least a week, probably much longer if it lasts that long. Always allow 30 minutes for the ice-cream to soften a bit.
½ cup (110 g) caster sugar
60 g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Noilly Prat or Cognac
Lemon-scented verbena ice-cream
1 ½ cups (375 ml) milk
½ cup (125 ml) thickened cream
½ cup (110 g) caster sugar
10 unsprayed lemon-scented verbena leaves, washed
5 free-range egg yolks
To make the ice-cream, place the milk, cream, half of the sugar and the verbena leaves in a small heavy-based saucepan over low heat to infuse for 1 hour, being careful not to reduce the volume of milk. Cool a little.
Using an electric mixer or hand-held electric beaters, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a large bowl until light and foamy, then whisk in the strained warm milk and cream mixture, discarding the leaves.
Set up a bowl with a fine-mesh sieve resting over it before you start to cook the custard.
Rinse out the pan and pour in the milk mixture, then cook over medium heat for at least 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon. (If you have a kitchen thermometer, 82–85°C is the temperature for a properly thickened custard.)
Strain the custard through the fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and cool completely in the refrigerator. Churn and freeze the mixture in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
To make the apricots, halve the fruit, put into a large bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Leave at room temperature for 1 hour, by which time some juices will have formed in the bowl.
Place the butter in an ovenproof frying pan that will just fit the apricots in a single layer, then melt over medium heat. Lift the apricots from the sugary juices, reserving the juices, and place cut-side down in the pan. Leave the apricots to sizzle in the butter for 5 minutes or until the cut-side is golden and caramelised. Carefully turn, using a flexible spatula to keep the caramelised surface intact so the cut-side is uppermost. Spoon over the melted butter and the reserved sugary juices. Drizzle the apricots with a few drops of Noilly Prat or Cognac.
Preheat the oven griller heated to high setting, then grill the apricots for 1–2 minutes, so that the edges of each apricot half catch a little and become even more caramelised; a bit of scorch is even desirable! Cool a little before serving, as they will be very hot.
Serve with a scoop of lemon-scented verbena ice-cream with a spray or two of lemon verbena.