The third recipe in this year’s contributions to our Ice ice, Baby! series is a little unusual: basil ice cream, best served with balsamic strawberries.
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Have you ever had a meal that has stuck in your mind years later for all the right reasons?
I’ve had a few, but where ice cream is concerned, two events stick in my mind. The first was my trip to Denmark and my first try of black liquorice ice cream.
The second was a work dinner in Brussels. The restaurant is no longer there and I don’t remember quite who was at the dinner – I think it was the official dinner for some in-house training for junior associates.
The dinner was in spring or early summer and the menu all involved asparagus. Even the dessert.
You may know that I love asparagus. Indeed, I enjoyed the meal very much. But what really sticks in my mind is the asparagus ice cream, served with strawberries.
It was a little watery for me – I like my milk-based ice creams to be very creamy and not to taste like watered down flavored milk. Still, as a concept, it stuck with me.
I don’t want to make asparagus ice cream today. It is a little too unusual and I am unlikely to convince the rest of my family to eat any – apart from my Dad who can’t travel at the moment anyway.
So instead, I decided to make an ice cream with another unusual ice cream ingredient which still goes very well with strawberries. Basil.
The history of herb ice creams
Herbs and spices have long been used in ice cream. The very first ‘ice creams’ were arguably made by Arabs, who kept a mixture of milk, fruit and honey on ice and added herbs and spices to the mixture before consuming. This concept was later bought to Sicily and then on to France by Catherine de Medici and the pastry chefs who formed part of her entourage.
Herb ice creams and gelato all have something in common: the herbs are steeped in the milk or water to infuse the ice cream or sorbet with its flavour. The longer the steeping time, the stronger the herb flavour.
Some wonderful herb combinations include:
- Rhubarb and mint
- Apple and rosemary (or serve apple pie with rosemary ice cream)
- cherries and sage
- stone fruits with basil or anise
- orange and rosemary
- chocolate and mint or thyme
Tips for the perfect basil ice cream
There is really only one tip for great basil ice cream, which is true for almost all herb ice creams: You must use fresh basil.
For more woody herby, such as rosemary, we would strain the herb out from the milk before adding the milk to the eggs. In the case of basil, I found it better to wizz the warm milk/sugar/basil mix in a stand blender, then strain the mix in a fine-mesh sieve into the saucepan to remove any chunks. I then added the strained milk mix to the eggs a little at a time with a ladle. I tried first to blitz the mix with an immersion blender, but all I got was a mess and I could not do it all at once.
Otherwise, as with any egg-based ice cream, use our tips from our white chocolate and mascarpone panna cotta ice cream recipe:
Take the eggs out of the fridge while the basil is infusing: this will ensure that they are at room temperature and reduce the risk of curdling.
Don’t let the milk and egg mix boil when reheating. When it starts steaming, turn your temperature down.
Pass the thickened milk and egg mix through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps or missed bits of basil.
Allow the mixture to cool for a few hours or even overnight in the fridge before pouring into the ice cream maker.
Tip: Most of our recipes are for no-churn ice creams. However, this one will definitely benefit from some churning. I have a Kitchenaid stand mixer, so it made sense for me to get the ice cream attachment – one less thing in the cupboard! However, I have had an ice cream maker in the past and recommend that you get one if you plan to make a lot of ice cream or sorbet this summer. In most cases, you can eat it immediately after churning as it will have the consistency of soft serve – and it will be ready around the same time as your balsamic strawberries. This ice cream maker looks perfect!
Tips or delicious balsamic strawberries
When we were in the North of Italy, we visited a supermarket and got a jar of a wonderful balsamic syrup to eat with strawberries. This recipe recreates that syrup.
Originally, I was going to puree the caramelized balsamic strawberries and swirl them through the ice cream. However, I decided that they were just too good to be pureed.
If you would like to swirl them, puree the balsamic strawberries using your stand or immersion blender and pass the puree through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Add the strawberries to the ice cream during the last minute of churning.
Basil and balsamic strawberry gelato
- Plastic wrap
For the basil ice cream
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh basil
- 4 large egg yolks
- pinch of salt
- 200 mL mascarpone
For the balsamic strawberries
- 1 punnet fresh strawberries hulled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
Basil ice cream
- For the basil ice cream
- Pour the milk into a stainless steel saucepan and add the basil, 1/4 cup of the sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and let the milk and basil steep for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the milk mix to a blender and mix until the basil is finely ground (about 1 minute). Strain the milk through a fine-meshed sieve to remove any lumps of basil.
- Beat together the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer for 1 minute or until thick and pale. With the beater running, add the milk mixture a little at a time and beat until well combined.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture starts to steam and thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Do not let it boil.
- Cover with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to sit on the basil custard. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to cool down until cold (at least 20 minutes).
- Stir in the mascarpone and pour into an ice cream maker, freezing according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer to harden for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 190°c.
- Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a roasting pan. Toss gently to coat and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until the strawberries are soft and release their juices.
- Allow the strawberries to cool for a few minutes before serving with a scoop of basil ice cream.
Basil ice cream + caramelised balsamic strawberries = yum
Have you ever tried herbed gelato before? If not, this basil ice cream is a great one to start with.
Strawberries with basil is a common and refreshing summer dish. Familiarity with the taste of basil in other dishes makes it this basil ice cream the ideal ice cream for first-timers. And the caramelised balsamic strawberries are the perfect accompaniment.