Thursday, July 11, 2013

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

Other than the lengthening days of sunlight, the growing desire to wear shorter pants, and seasonal openings of the local amusement parks, what's the thing that truly signifies summer is right around the corner?  The first sight of strawberries.

Spotting them for the first time of the season at the local farmer's market will make the heart begin to race, followed by thoughts of "what will I make with them this year?" and "how many is too many?".  The answer to the first question is an easy one for me, after having been in this wonderful dilemma before (don't worry, I will share some of my ideas).  The second is usually not controlled by my brain but rather my craving level for strawberries at the time of purchase.  Let's just say that level is almost always high... So far this year I've purchased 3 pints from the farmer's market, received 2 pints in my CSA, and picked another 8 pints at a strawberry field in New Jersey.  Not to mention the ones my roommate brought home that were shared.

Strawberry picking is a fun and rewarding experience, for adults as much as children, and I think everyone should do it at least once in their life.  Not only does it teach you an important lesson in where your food comes from, but it's very relaxing and enjoyable to walk between rows and rows of strawberries searching for the perfectly shaped and deep-red colored, taking tastes of your gatherings all along the way.  I've spent hours filling up buckets or flats of these berries, and I look forward to my once a year strawberry picking.

I actually found this recipe after my first strawberry picking adventure, which yielded way more crop than I could ever hope to finish one at a time.  Now, it has become an annual recipe, which I try to only make from strawberries picked myself.  Yes, I could use store-bought, or out-of-season berries other times of the year, but trust me when I tell you that you need that fresh and sweet strawberry taste. 

Strawberry and basil seems like an odd combination, especially in ice cream, but I've seen it pop up on menus a lot lately.  It's become one of my favorite pairings, and the reason I love this ice cream so much is because it's one of the rare foods that will give you not one, but two distinct punches of flavor.  Strawberry...then basil.  I can just imagine my taste buds celebrating as the taste hits two different sets of them.  Take your first bite nice and slow to give your mouth the full indulgent experience.       

**Other great strawberry pairings you ask?  Just follow the season...  First comes asparagus in late spring, which kicks off the green vegetable season (this combination is best in salads).  Rhubarb follows shortly after (mix with strawberries in pies/tarts, ice creams, or cocktails).  As the season moves into early summer, pair them with blueberries, squash, and of course in salads.  Strawberry jam is always a good option too.

(Adapted from eCurry's recipe)
Makes: ~5 cups (2.5 pints)

1 cup half and half
1/2 cup whole milk
1 pint fresh strawberries + 1 cup fresh strawberries, washed, and hulled
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves (no stems)
3/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 medium lemon or lime
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup blanched and slivered almonds, slightly toasted

Substitutions - Replace half and half with heavy cream and whole milk with half and half.  Or, for a healthier version, replace half and half with whole milk and whole milk with 2% milk.
Recommendations - Use milk and cream from a local source, such as the farmer's market, use fresh strawberries, and pick basil from your garden if you have one.
Gluten Free

*HINT: Save empty pint ice cream containers to store your own ice cream creations.  The plastic ones work best for multiple uses.
  1. Blend half and half, milk, 1 pint strawberries, basil leaves, sugar, and lemon or lime zest, and salt.
  2. Chop the remaining strawberries and set aside.  These will be used for extra pieces (optional)
  3. Crush nuts slightly to release oil.  Set aside.
  4. Combine all ingredients including nuts and strawberry pieces.  Pour slowly into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.