Blue cheese. Nutella. Lavender. Burrata. Habenero.
This could be a list of things I’m crazy about. What it is, is a list of things Amey dislikes, with a healthy dose of disdain thrown in for good measure.
Aside from his insidious proclivity to all things lime and my prodigious tendency to all things chilli, there not much my other half and I disagree about food-wise. Unless we get to this bunch of things. Then we get to how-on-earth-can-this-be-the-person-I-chose-to-marry territory. The territory where one can have a polarized relationship about Nutella.
He’s a better eater than I am, despite his embargo on soft, fresh cheese and burn-your-tongue-off peppers. He eats all kinds of vegetables I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole – bitter gourd, horseradish, rajma – with a fair amount of gusto. He also respects the fact that you cooked for him and will most likely eat any of these ingredients if you invite us over for dinner. There are then these very rare times where he sticks his hands in his pockets, clamps his mouth shut and does the best impression I know of a two-year old discovering kale for the first time. Times when I’m trying to prove to him, with a piece of toast in one hand and a spoonful of Nutella in the other, just how irrational his not liking it is. I plead “But you like hazelnuts.” He agrees “Sure”. I further posit “…and you love chocolate”. and he’s all “What’s not to like?” Then I go for the jugular with “So this is chocolate and hazelnuts. Together. In one handy, dandy smooth, creamy spoonful”. At which he gets that glazed look in his eyes that he gets when I’m trying to get him to watch The Nine Lives of Chloe King and is all like “What’s your point?” At which juncture I stick the spoonful of Nutella in my mouth, spread his toast with peanut-butter and loathing, and settle down to a lonely lifetime of solitary Nutella love.
So all in all, his quasi-erratic food preferences should have prepared me to his reaction to this ice-cream flavour I made up. If I’d thought it through, I would have inaugurated my brand-new ice-cream maker with some thing safe, like vanilla. But I was all “vanilla? How boring!” (I love vanilla. I was just caught up in new appliance high.) I’ve dreamed of my own ice-cream maker all my life. Ever since I saw the two guys lug this big barrel around on a bicycle with another barrel in it and rock salt and ice in between, set with a humongous crank that one of them industriously turned. It made the best strawberry ice-cream. I pleaded with my dad who was all “Where on earth do you see room for a giant barrel in this flat?” and my mom who said “I’ll move out and then you’ll have room for your ice-cream barrel”. I was eight. Like I’d have any problem making that choice. But I digress.
I had conviction that the first ice-cream I’d make when I finally got my mitts on an ice-cream maker of my very own would involve strawberries. It was the first ice-cream flavour I ever tasted. It was so good I didn’t stop to think it involved artificial flavouring. I didn’t care. I clung to the strawberry-is-my-favourite-ice-cream-flavour idea with a true limpet touch. A limpet with a plan.
The strawberries at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market are some of the best you can find. The wonderful folk at Dirty Girl Produce (I love them) hooked me up with some of their A-grade stash. They would have been best just eaten by themselves, but they had a date with some sugar and a very cold bowl. In his very comprehensive book, How to cook everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman has a lovely short chapter on ice-cream and how you can put together your own flavour combination by following some simple ratio rules. We had some lovely flowering thyme in the garden which I’d just picked and the colour was so gorgeous next to the strawberries. Without thinking much about it, I found myself tossing the thyme into a pot with some sugar, macerated strawberries and some lemon verbena leaves. A squeeze of orange juice to enhance the lovely tang in the strawberries and I found myself in possession of some delicious strawberry puree with a note of something in it that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. I thought it was heavenly. Making the ice-cream with it was so simple, I couldn’t believe we hadn’t owned an ice-cream maker any sooner. Amey was going to love this. I was sure. I was also wrong.
He had a couple of spoonfuls, put the spoon down carefully and told me I was taking my obsession with salt entirely too far and why on earth had I salted his ice-cream that he’d been looking forward to all day. Then he went looking for some Pringles, because by Yoda if he was going to eat salty foods then it would be stuff not pretending to be sweet. I cautiously tasted the ice-cream again. I tasted no salt. There was no salt in the recipe. No, I hadn’t mistaken the salt for sugar. Not.one.pinch.of.salt. I don’t get it. I loved it. A friend of mine who tried it loved it. All Amey tasted was salt. I wonder if it’s like that phenomenon where to some people cilantro tastes like soap.
Strawberry Ice-cream with Thyme and Lemon Verbena
Based on Mark Bittman’s method from How to cook everything Vegetarian.
Makes about 1 pint
For the puree:
Strawberries – 2 cups, washed, hulled and halved
Sugar – 3/4 cup
Thyme – 1 3″ sprig
Lemon Verbena – 5 large leaves
Orange – 1/2, juice of
For the ice-cream:
Milk – 1 cup (2%)
Cream – 1 cup
Strawberry puree – 1 cup
Eggs yolks – 5
Sugar – 1/3 cup
To make the puree:
– Toss the strawberry halves and sugar into a saucepan at medium heat.
– Pour in the juice of half an orange along with a cup of water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil.
– Turn the heat down when mixture reaches a boil and then add the thyme sprigs and lemon verbena leaves.
– Roughly mash in the strawberries against the side of the container, using a large fork or potato masher.
– Simmer until the liquid has slightly reduced and mixture has thickened about 25-30 minutes.
– Skim off the foam. Fish out the woody bit of the thyme sprig and the lemon verbena leaves.
– Pour into a jar and let cool to room temperature. (Will make more puree than you need for one batch of ice-cream)
To make the ice-cream:
– Pour the cream and milk into a saucepan and heat at medium-high, just bringing it to a boil, stirring occasionally. Move off heat.
– In a separate bowl, beat the yolks and sugar together until mixture is thickened and light yellow.
– Slowly add 1/2 cup of the warmed milk and cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking continuously, to temper the yolks.
– Whisk the egg and milk mixture gently back into the rest of the hot milk.
– Cool mixture down to room temperature then place in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
– Take out of the fridge and add in the berry puree. Stir to mix then follow your ice-cream machine’s instructions to make your ice-cream.
Mark Bittman instructs the use of 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar for strawberry ice-cream. That just scared me but I didn’t want the ice-cream to be ruined (apparently it was anyway; my husband hated it) so I reduced those numbers slightly. I think I shouldn’t have. A bit more sugar may have gone some way in helping Amey’s palate.
I really don’t know what happened with this ice-cream. I love the honey-thyme ice-cream that Humphrey Slocombe makes and somewhere in the back of my mind that’s what I was thinking of while making this. Truly, I thought it was delicious. On a normal day, Amey loves strawberries. And thyme. And lemon verbena. Clearly, he has a problem with them together. Or he doesn’t like them cold. Or something. Wish I knew what it was. Then I could make a tweaked batch of this again. As of now, I have to wait for him to take a week’s trip somewhere. Or catch a cold. Either option will do. I get petty when my ice-cream is insulted.