Maggie’s verjuice cookbook, 202pp.
by Maggie Beer
Penguin Australia, Camberwell, Victoria, 2012
Cooking on page 32
Verjuice (literally meaning green juice) is the juice of unripe grapes. In cooking terms, it is what is known as an acidulant. It adds a sour flavour or sharpness or bite to food. Maggie Beer considers verjuice the ‘gentle’ acidulant, and uses it more liberally than lemon juice, vinegar and wine.
Verjuice has been around for centuries in Europe and the Middle East as a way to make use of grapes that might otherwise go to waste. Beer and her husband were the first to produce verjuice in Australia. That started in 1984 when they were unable to sell a crop of rhine riesling grapes. That first batch was a disaster—the flagons of verjuice exploded.
Of course, their process has been refined, and this book is one of Beer’s ways to encourage people to start splashing verjuice around their kitchens.
Tomato, saffron and verjuice soup with prawns and chervil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
800 g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2/3 cup (160 ml) verjuice
1 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
15 threads saffron
40 g unsalted butter
12 large raw prawns, peeled and deveined but with tails intact
handful chervil sprigs
Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Reduce the heat to low–medium and add the garlic, then cook for a further 3 minutes or until the garlic is light golden–brown.
Add the tomatoes and increase the heat to high. Add 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the verjuice and cook for 2 minutes, then add the sugar, saffron, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 475 ml water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low–medium and simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by a third.
Remove the pan from the heat and blend the mixture with a stick blender until smooth. Check the seasoning and adjust as required. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan over high heat until foaming, then add the prawns and a pinch of salt. Cook the prawns for 1 minute, then turn and cook for a further 30–40 seconds. Add the remaining verjuice and stir for 45 seconds–1 minute or until the verjuice has evaporated.
Divide the soup among four bowls, then arrange three prawns in each. Sprinkle over some chervil and finish with some of the butter from the frying pan and a splash of extra virgin olive oil before serving.
How it played out
After making a special trip to the market to buy enough tomatoes, I made this exactly as written. Well, almost. I couldn’t find chervil anywhere, so I had to substitute parsley. And the prawns I had at home had already lost their tails.
Hey, these are mini changes and I can’t imagine they affected the final result in any way.
By the way, I bought my saffron earlier this year in India. We had several months touring there and in Bhutan. I saw saffron for sale only twice—in Jodhpur and Darjeeling. The saffron in Jophpur’s market was sold loose and probably wouldn’t have been allowed into Australia, so I bought ten small containers just outside the zoo in Darjeeling.
A lovely, light and flavourful tomato soup with just the right amount of tang. Perfect for a summer’s day, dinner party or quick lunch, which is how Poor John and I had it today.
He spent the morning raking leaves (it’s winter in Australia). Meanwhile, I went to the gym, took a side trip to buy tomatoes and then goofed off in the kitchen. Trust me, this recipe didn’t take long to make. Easy, flashy, tasty and elegant. On my list for future use.
And whatever you do, don’t forget to drizzle over some of the butter from sautéing the prawns. Oh yum!
By the way, this is the second time I’ve blogged about of Beer’s verjuice recipes. Here’s the first one, which was equally delicious.