Nothing in the world is as sexy as strawberries in the summertime – there is something verging on provocative about their feminine shape. The perfect accompaniments to these luscious summer fruits (according to the French at least) are basil and balsamic vinegar, bien sûr !
I invited the girls over for one of those too-hot-to-do-anything-but-drink champagne afternoons. Needless to say this dessert was a hit – the cold ice cream, juicy strawberries and tart vinegar easing away a little of this breathlessly hot Sydney weather.
I have excitedly raided my strawberry and basil pot plants for this recipe. As well as my ever-expanding bonsai collection, I have started accumulating various herbs and berries to grow in little pots for me to enjoy. It’s been a patient wait for the basil seedlings to come in to their own, but this recipe as a part of Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Cook (almost) Anything is just as deserving an occasion as any to celebrate their maturity!
If you are buying your fruit from a grocer, here are a few things you should keep in mind. Strawberries should be uniformly red (no green tips!) and if your grocer is worth his salt he will tell you to take your bounty out of their plastic packaging ASAP. Strawberries are best kept in a paper bag, in a flat layer, so as not to encourage premature mould. Organic (or better – home grown!) is always best, as the chemicals the berries are sprayed with absorb right through their outer skin.
If you can find it, use balsamico vinegar from Modena – it’s a touch more expensive but worth its weight in gold. I bought mine from The Essential Ingredient in Rozelle where I also spotted actress Cate Blanchett doing her shopping – I do dream of being able to pick up escargots and Persian fairy floss as part of my weekly shop run… If you’re in the area make sure you check out Herbie’s Spices a couple of shops down on Darling Street – their book The Spice and Herb Bible is a great resource too. I know many Sydney chefs who use them – if they don’t have what you’re looking for, I’m not sure who will!
basil ice cream with macerated strawberries
for the basil ice cream:
- 4 cups (1L) of milk
- 2 generous handful of basil (approx. 3 packed cups)
- 1 cup (200g) of sugar
- 10 egg yolks (200g)
- pinch of salt
for the macerated strawberries:
- 4 punnets of flavourful strawberries (preferably organic)
- 2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
- large pinch of sugar, to taste
the ice cream
- Pick through the basil and set aside several of the smaller leaves for decoration. Roughly chop the remaining basil (if you would like specks of the herb throughout your ice cream, separate a little basil and chop finely to be added later).
- Bring the milk to the boil in a medium saucepan with a large pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt (the sugar helps prevent the milk from scalding). Add the chopped basil, turn the heat off and let the milk stand for an hour to infuse the flavour.
- Strain the milk through a fine-mesh sieve, using a spatula or clean hands to press through as much of the colour and flavour as possible. Discard the basil from the sieve.
- Prepare a fine sieve set over a large bowl in an ice bath (i.e. a tray or larger bowl filled with ice and a little cold water).
- Return the milk to the saucepan and gently rewarm.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the cup of sugar until they turn a thick buttery colour (this can take up to five minutes – be careful not to let the sugar sit on the egg yolks until you are ready to start as this will harden the yolks).
- When your milk has come to a gentle simmer, pour a little on top of the whipped yolks to temper the mixture, whisking constantly.
- Pour the tempered yolks into the saucepan with the remaining milk and stir constantly over a gentle heat with a spatula until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula (if using a thermometer, it should read around 77ºC/ 170ºF).
- Immediately strain the mixture into the prepared bowl, then stir over the ice bath until cool.
- Refrigerate the mixture thoroughly, preferably overnight (this “ages” the ice cream base, allowing the mixture to stabilise and the flavour to improve).
- Freeze the base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Cut the strawberries into quarters, then combine with the balsamic vinegar and pinch of sugar in a bowl. Taste and adjust sugar if the strawberries are particularly tart and allow to macerate for an hour.
- If the ice cream has hardened in the freezer, place it in the fridge 30 minutes before serving to soften.
- Fill the bottom of a martini glass with the macerated strawberries and a few of the small basil leaves that were set aside earlier. Repeat for the remaining servings.
- Use either an ice cream scoop or spoon dipped in hot water to quenelle the basil ice cream on top of the strawberries in the glass. Serve immediately.