18 June 2012

strawberry basil gelato

Although the official start of summer isn’t until June 20th, most of North America considers the season to begin with the May long weekend: Memorial Day in the U.S. or Victoria Day in Canada.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the unofficial summer thus far has been cold and wet. Disgruntled Vancouverites have dubbed it “Junuary.”

It’s too early to declare 2012’s June as the coldest on record here, but so far it’s not very encouraging. You have to go all the way back to 1971 to find a Junuary that even comes close to being as chilly as it’s been this year. The month so far has averaged just 55° F (13° C). Vancouver has had only 68 hours of bright sunshine this month. An average June experiences 229 hours of sunshine.

Despite the miserable weather, one sure sign of summer has emerged. Locally grown strawberries made their debut this weekend. And what a grand entrance it is!

Amazingly, this year’s crop is the best I’ve tasted in the 5 years I’ve lived here. At first bite, you discover a strawberry that has all the complexity of a sip of fine wine. It overwhelms with layers of flavor, from striking sweetness to a tinge of tang. A juicy burst—sweet at first, lingering on the tongue—then a subtle hit of tanginess, savoury and satisfying.

To celebrate this welcome harbinger of sunny days ahead, I made strawberry basil gelato. My version might not be classified as a true gelato, since I intentionally kept some small strawberry chunks in the mix rather than making if totally smooth and creamy. In combination with homegrown Italian basil, it becomes an absolute delight for the senses.

1 pound fresh strawberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2-3 tbsp fresh chopped basil; 1-2 tsp dried basil

Remove the green tops of the strawberries and rinse them in cold water. Place the berries and the sugar in a food processor and blend until puréed. Add the milk and lemon juice and continue blending until all the ingredients are mixed together thoroughly.

Whip the cream with a whisk until it begins to thicken and acquires the consistency of buttermilk. Add the puréed strawberries and basil; mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

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