Basil, Lemon and Passionfruit Ice Cream
'Versatile sweet basil, with its heady clove and anise perfume, sends cooks into raptures and brings Summer to mind'.
- Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill, Herbaceous.
My summer holidays are quickly drawing to an end and next Monday marks the beginning of my working year for 2012. The scent of fresh basil lingers on my fingers as I write this snippet and I know the thing I will miss most about being at home (other than Peter's company, of course, and our daily cycling by the duck ponds) is the freedom to spend hours pottering in the kitchen garden.
Last night Peter stood for ages, simply admiring the progress of the garden. 'It is growing like a jungle this year,' he remarked, genuinely surprised by the rate at which our vegetables, strawberries and herbs are growing. The rich compost and worm farm that we dug in before our Sydney trip have indeed made a difference. And while everything seems to be flourishing, the strawberries and basil have been the most productive so far. Our taste buds and tummies are delighted.
With such an abundance of basil, I have been exploring numerous recipes and have to say that this one for Basil and Lemon Ice Cream is amazing. The receipt in question is from Diana Henry's gorgeous Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons (Octopus 2002). Henry says she first tasted basil ice cream made from a recipe in Joyce Molyneaux and Sophie Grigson's Carved Angel Cookery Book and she 'loved its haunting perfumedness'. This description is so apt, this ice cream offers a sublime combination of flavours, but to my palate sweet basil is the star ingredient, so I have changed the recipe title to give basil first billing. Next batch, I plan to add a hint of passionfruit and have my ice cream a la my favourite Zumbo macaron... passionfruit and basil. I think that flavour combo would be even more superb! UPDATE: since first writing this post, I have made a double batch and added passionfruit. The ice cream is DIVINE, even better than a Zumbo macaron!
Before we launch into the recipe, a few basil facts and a little trivia. Food history tells us that basil originated in India and was considered by the Greeks to be a sacred herb. At one time only the sovereign was allowed to eat basil (hence Basilikos, meaning Royal) and its harvest was a special ritual. The priest who officiated had to 'purify' his right hand with splashes from an oak sprig that had been dipped in water from three different springs. Such a palaver over a humble herb, and just think, women were not allowed to pick it!
There are several varieties of basil now available, including Lemon Basil, Purple Basil, Thai Basil and Lime Basil, among others. To grow basil successfully, choose a warm sunny spot and pinch out the flower buds regularly to encourage denser foliage. Water the plant to keep the soil damp, but not wet, as it will quickly rot and die. In Morocco, basil is planted among other plants in the garden to ward off insects. However, basil is hugely popular with snails and can be devoured in a sitting, so make sure you take suitable precautions on this note.
Basil and tomatoes are seen as the perfect culinary partnership and the herb is also excellent with eggplant, zucchini, cheese, pasta, potatoes, chicken, some seafoods and lamb. Basil's best (almost) solo performance is, of course, in pesto. If you would like to know how to make pesto like an Italian grandmother, Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame explains it here. And on that subject, I have included a link to one of my favourite poems, Pesto by Fiona Johnston here. Basil is versatile and the leaves can be used in so many other ways; including basil butter, scattered onto pizza, in salads, mixed into stuffings and tossed into sauces and soups. Fellow blogger, wine maker, gardener and cook, 'Vineyard Paul' from Tasmania, has investigated whether it is best to tear or to chop basil. His findings are here. Interesting, no!?
Harvest the leaves of the plant during the Summer growing period and pick all of the leaves before the weather cools down and the plant dies back. Drawing on Ian 'Herbie' Hemphill's expertise, to preserve basil for drying, 'cut long leafy stalks and spread them on wire mesh in a shady place'. Sophie Grigson recommends making a big batch of pesto and covering it with an extra layer of olive oil then freezing it for up to three months. Grigson also suggests that you puree the leaves with olive oil or water and freeze them in ice cube trays. Basil is expensive to buy, so I think I will try this.
Do you enjoy the flavour of basil and what is your favourite basil recipe? What are your secrets to preserving it for the cooler months? Do please pop in and let me and your fellow readers know.
I hope that you managed to take a break, your holidays were relaxed and your return to the workplace is off to a great start. I've given a wrap up of what I will miss about Summer holidays at the tail end of this post. Ciao!
BASIL, LEMON AND PASSIONFRUIT ICE CREAM*
30 large basil leaves, roughly torn
zest of a lemon, removed in thin strips, no pith
juice of a lemon
seeds and juice of 3-4 passionfruit
150g caster sugar
4 egg yolks (make meringue with the whites)
Heat the milk just to boiling point, then turn off the heat and add the basil leaves and lemon zest. Allow this to infuse for an hour. Note, the delicate basil leaves will blacken.
Beat the sugar and egg yolks together in a pyrex bowl until pale and creamy. Strain the milk into a jug through a sieve or colander and press out as much of the flavour from the zest and basil leaves as possible. Stir the milk into the egg and sugar mixture.
Pop the bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water and stir the mixture constantly until it begins to thicken to a custard. Test on the back of a wooden spoon. If the custard coats the back of the spoon and leaves a trail if you run your finger through, it is ready. Transfer it immediately to a large pouring jug and allow it to cool.
Beat the cream lightly until it begins to thicken. Add the lemon juice and passionfruit to the custard, then stir in the cream. Churn the custard in an ice cream machine and then freeze until in a container until you are ready to serve it. Serves 4. *I have amended the wording of the recipe with my interpretation of the preparation process.
Summer holidays are drawing to an end. I will miss... pottering in the kitchen garden for hours
I will miss cycling in natural surrounds every morning...
Before I return to the kitchen to make another batch of the Basil and Lemon ice cream, I thought I would ask how you spent your Summer holidays. Did you travel? What was the most enjoyable activity (or non activity) and what will you miss most upon returning to the daily grind?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.