Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shake Your Foodie: Let the Strawberry Season Churn Churn Churn....

It has begun: my food blog. There have been many reasons why I haven't started this yet, ranging from "but everyone has a food blog" to "I think this would just stress me out, and inhibit my creativity...." to downright, good ol' procrastination. I've always been a pro at the latter, especially when it comes to doing things would make me feel "good", or things that intimidate me. Oh, and I always over-think everything (can you tell?). To mitigate, I have given myself 3 "ground rules" for this blog:

v  Rule 1. Only write posts about recipes and/or topics that truly inspire me-and hopefully you too! This does not exclude recipes that I completely botch-in fact, there is beauty and much to be learned from mistakes in cooking.
v  Rule 2. Do not stress about the blog. Do not over think the blog. This would completely inhibit the creative and inspirational goals outlined in "rule 1", and make this whole experience not so enjoyable. So what if I only post one time per month? Over a course of years (hopefully), I think that is perfectly acceptable. Quality, not quantity.
v  Rule 3. Always remember: "It is ok to be right, it is ok to be wrong, but it is never ok to be dull and boring". 

…so that leaves me with no choice but to begin.

Ice cream, summer, freshly picked strawberries: when combined, are real treasures that should be savored every season! I have to admit, the 12 quarts of sunshine-ripened berries that I picked earlier this month have been the most inspiring ingredient I have worked with in a long time. From picking to processing, I love the whole experience: the sunshine, the muddy shoes, the bug bites, the search through the strawberry plants for the next "perfect berry", and the treat of eating the fresh sun-warmed berries. It is an amazing experience! And what better way to showcase beautiful fresh strawberries than homemade ice cream? Or even better: gelato!

The bounty of my strawberry picking this beautiful!

         During my undergraduate career, I spent 3 summer months in Italy, near Florence (the lovely town to Sesto Fiorentino, to be exact). While here, I studied drawing as well as the Italian language, and also consumed a huge quantity of gelato.  So I consider myself, at the very least, a gelato snob. I will never forget my first gelato experience: it was a balmy June evening, and I was extremely jet-lagged. A small group of us left the villa that we would call “home” for our tenure in Sesto, and decided to explore downtown Sesto. It did not take us long to find a quaint gelateria. We knew it'd be good since the gelato was not mounded in the serving pans, and there were a handful of locals sitting outside enjoying cups and cones, scooping out little bites with the mini-spoons traditionally provided at gelaterias. I ordered pistachio gelato (in my first, albeit broken, Italian conversation experience!), mainly because it was a beautiful green color. After my first taste, I was hooked: it was not too sweet or heavy, had a perfect texture and a lovely nutty taste with a hint of citrus. The beauty, I realized, was the freshness of the gelato and the ingredients it was made from.

I went on to taste many other flavors in other parts of Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice, Siena, Lucca...they were all incredibly fresh, made daily with local ingredients. This was the inspiration for my roasted strawberry balsamic gelato: freshly picked strawberries, local honey, local dairy and eggs.

          I’d also like to add that this amazing Madison restaurant has the most authentic, and amazing gelato, that I have had since Italy. And I may or may not have splurged on 2 desserts during one visit recently…Madisonians and visitors: you must go! I am hoping to dine here soon (yes, I have only gone for dessert and cocktails so far…).

Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Gelato
Makes approximately 4 cups

1 pint strawberries (16 oz), hulled and quartered if large, halved if small
3 TB honey (adjust to taste based on berry sweetness and preference)
3 TB balsamic vinegar (high quality and aged is recommended)

Gelato Base:
1 1/2 cups whole milk (I am in love with Sassy Cow these days!)
2 TB cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream (Sassy Cow, again!)
2/3 cup sugar (I used dried sucanant, see note below)
2 TB honey (I used a local white clover)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp high quality balsamic vinegar, or to taste (see note 2 below)

Notable Tools & Time:
Two quart sauce pan, heavy bottom recommended
Baking dish
Pastry cutter or potato masher
Measuring cups and spoons, or ingredient scale
Two quart bowl
Thermometer (optional)
Time to thoroughly chill and age gelato base (12 to 24 hours, overnight is best! See note 3 below)
Ice cream maker
Pints or air-tight container for storing

To make the roasted strawberries, preheat your oven to 375F. Mix the strawberries with the sugar and balsamic, and place in an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish, stirring to combine. Roast for 8-15 minutes until soft. Mash with a potato masher or pastry cutter to desired size of strawberries; the berries will be churned and broken down, so keep this in mind.
Mmmm...roasted strawberries! You could easily enjoy these by themselves. For close-lookers: I may or may not have added a handful of diced rhubarb pieces to mine as a last-minute impulse...
To make your gelato base, mix 2 TB of the whole milk with the cornstarch and egg yolks in a medium sized bowl, mixing to make smooth slurry. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, salt and honey, and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch/yolk slurry, being sure to temper your egg yolks here to prevent them from curdling. I use a measuring cup to help transfer smaller quantities of the hot milk mixture at first, then pour the remaining hot milk while constantly whisking. Return the milk mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Cook until slightly thickened (you can run your finger through a thin layer on a back of a spoon, and it retains the path of your finger-see below) or until thermometer reads 170F. Remove from heat, and transfer to bowl. Stir in the strawberries, 1 teaspoon vanilla and balsamic vinegar, then cover, and chill overnight. Alternatively, you could submerge the bowl into another bowl with salted ice, and stir until thoroughly chilled. Personally, I have found that aging overnight yields better flavors and textures.

Churn ice cream according to ice cream maker instructions. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer Ice Cream Bowl attachment-it is pretty damn nifty. I have been satisfied with the results I have achieved over the past few years. However, would recommend serious ice cream and gelato makers to invest in a devoted ice cream making appliance. After churning, pack into an airtight storage container(s), and freeze until firm.
I couldn’t resist, and had to dig in about 2 hours after freezer time! The texture was lovely and airy, the berries gave the gelato a beautiful pink color, and the balsamic really topped it off. The berry texture and distribution was great too-there were numerous chunks of berries to enjoy. I did have reservations about roasting the berries, but was pleased with the final berry texture.
I found that enyoinh within 1 week of freezing is best (as with most home-made ice creams), however, this is dependent on many factors, and is very subjective! Personally, I can handle a small quantity of ice crystals, and realize that achieving the *ideal* sub-cooling and ice crystal nucleation conditions in typical home-made ice cream applications can be a challenge (this is a whole topic of discussion in itself! See note 2 below). If you are a texture snob: eat it within a day or two, or consider sharing. Never accept anything but the best when it comes to gelato!
Until next time.....Mangia Bene! Ciao!

1.    Dried sucanant is dried sugar cane juice; it is not refined white sugar, or white sugar that has had molasses added back to it (commonly known as brown sugar!). It is sugar cane crystals, with a slight brown color, retain the natural molasses. In addition, the minerals and vitamins commonly found in un-refined sugar (yes…they are even in sugar!) are not stripped away like “regular” white sugar due to minimal processing, heating and bleaching. So far, I have had good results with substituting 1-for-1 where recipes call for white sugar.  
2.    You could easily substitute a portion of the milk for buttermilk if a more-tangy product is desired; the amount of balsamic could then be reduced, but let your personal tastes guide you. I’d recommend adding in some more heavy cream in place of the milk/buttermilk, since most buttermilk is made from reduced or low-fat milks.
3.    In my experiences, I have found that aging bases overnight has given me better flavor and texture in the final product. If you are feeling ambitious, you could even try the following: about 30 minutes prior to churning, put your base into the freezer. Stir half-way through, making sure to get the sides of your container scraped. You do NOT want ice crystals to form during this process, as your goal is to only cool the base to the coldest possible temperature (or at least a colder temperature!) before ice crystals form. This will result in more rapid and prolific ice crystal nucleation once the base hits the ice cream bowl, which in turn will give you more numerous, smaller ice crystals in the finished product; these smaller, more numerous crystals will grow less during freeze/thaw cycles and temperature abuse. This translates into smoother texture for longer! But really, you should just eat your gelato and ice creams fresh…!

No comments:

Post a Comment