Sunday, March 29, 2015

Friends - Basil Ice Cream

Six months ago, our lab's second visiting scholar arrived. Our first was a cheerful Chinese girl, M. We bonded instantly, but she stayed only three months, her bittersweet departure as quiet as her arrival. D., on the other hand, blew in, a whirlwind of outgoing, talkative Sicilian with a penchant for travel and a long list of dreams. He is leaving like he came, with yesterday's going-away party culminating in turning the lights down, the music up, and dancing until 4:30 in the morning.

I've written about him thrice already, but he has changed my life. In the six short months that we've known each other, he's become one of my closest friends. Already, I've promised to graduate and visit in approximately three years (and now it's on the internet...). I've become a more confident person, seeing his total lack of pretension. I've picked up bits of Italian, decent and otherwise, and promised to Skype once a week, continuing his informal English tuition and my Italian. I've learned 6 recipes for pasta, traveled to about 20 places, attended a Catholic mass, learned the meaning of generosity and commitment, and genuinely smile more often.

All too soon, tomorrow is the day that I'll be dropping him off at the airport. Unexpectedly, he had a gift for me today: a waffle iron. Now I've wanted one for some time, since my parents bought a Belgian-style one several years ago, but this blog has seen its share of kitchen space complaints. I will discuss waffles later, once I've had a chance to really put it through its paces ;)

Until then, I leave you with this, Sicilian-style gelato using a traditional Italian ingredient in an un-traditional way. Unlike most ice creams, this one's best hand-churned. The icy crystals match well with the refreshing tingle of the basil, although machine-churning is admittedly quicker. Either way, you'll be rewarded with a gently green treat that divides Italians, but won over at least one French girl.

Basil Ice Cream (Gelato)
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop

1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
Lemon zest from about half a lemon (optional)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt (very much not optional)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Peruvian pisco (optional... the pisco, not the Peruvian. My roommate wants you to know it can't be Chilean pisco. I still haven't figured out the difference.)


Pour the cream into a large bowl, and set a strainer over it. You'll be pouring the custard into this to make the ice cream batter.

In a food processor, blender, mortar-and-pestle or some other destroying device, pulverize the basil leaves, sugar and lemon zest. Add a bit of milk, and whirl it again. Put half in the cream, and the rest in a pot on the stove. If your equipment is like mine, use a bit more of the milk to rinse out the basil, sugar and lemon from the bowl part of your destroyer. If your bowl is now actually quite clean, lucky you! Either way, add the rest of the milk to the pot.

Turn on the fire, and stir gently. Sprinkle in the cornstarch and whisk, almost constantly, until the mixture is noticeably thicker and more like pudding than milk. Turn off the fire, then strain it into the waiting cream. If you have it, add the Peruvian* pisco and stir.

Chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, until cold. Place into the freezer for about 6-7 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Toward the end, when you notice the transformation into ice cream, increase frequency of stirring to every 15 minutes if you can. Alternatively, churn in a machine. Enjoy!

* See note on the pisco above, in the ingredients list.