Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tasting Green

Little known fact about me: I taste words. Meaning, when I hear or read or speak a word, even non-food words, I can experience a taste with most of them, and usually feel the taste on my tongue. Most of these pairings aren't logical (some examples: "clock"= peanuts, "quality"= oatmeal, "present"= Twizzlers), but the taste and word pairings go back for as long as I can remember. I heard this really interesting NPR interview with a guy who saw colors while eating--different flavors made him see certain colors, and it made perfect sense to me, what with my wacked-out tasting of words thing and all. Turns out these sort of sensory crossovers have a name: synesthesia. Huh! Who knew? Just add that to the list of Certifiable Things About Me.

What? Oh! Yes, my point. I made a batch of ice cream, and upon tasting, realized that it tasted a lot like what "green" tastes like to me. And in other news which makes me feel a little more normal, it was made from something that was actually green. Whew.

Even if this mention of synesthesia has you totally stumped and kind of afraid of me now, I think you'd agree that David Lebovitz's recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream churns out a frozen dessert that is everything "green" should taste like. It's invigorating, refreshing, herbal. Makes you breathe a little deeper as you're eating it. If there was an Official Ice Cream of Spas, it would taste like this one.

It all starts with a pile (and I do mean a pile--two tightly packed cups' worth) of fresh mint leaves. I had a charming, sizable mint plant sitting on my windowsill which inspired me to make this recipe in the first place, but after plucking it clean of its leaves, I still had to supplement the bounty with a bunch from the produce market. Steep the leaves in a pot of warm sweetened cream and milk, whisk it into a custard with some fresh eggs, and then swirl it into more cream, all the while willing yourself not to lap up the fragrant elixir straight out of the bowl.

But if you stick to your guns and the lush, minty batter actually makes it into the ice cream maker for churning, you can spin some melted bittersweet chocolate into the mix. Although I guess you'll have to keep yourself from lapping that up too while you drizzle it in. Oh, and then--and then!-- there's the issue of having to the scrape the soft-set ice cream into another vessel for freezing. Call in Lick Prevention, people. We've got a situation over here.

Fresh Mint Ice Cream with Bittersweet Stracciatella
Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop

After steeping the leaves in the warm cream, you may want to give the mixture a quick blitz with a stick blender or similar--I find this intensifies the mint flavor and bumps up the green color just a bit. Give the puree an extra run through the sieve to trap excess leafy bits, but don't obsess about getting all the specks of leaf out of the ice cream--a few scattered throughout add character, like vanilla bean flecks.

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves (no stems)
5 large egg yolks

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (bar chocolate, not chips), finely chopped

In a small saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream and the salt over medium heat--do not let it boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Plunge the mint leaves into warm cream mixture and let it steep for at least one hour at room temperature.

Taste the resulting mint-infused cream--if the mint flavor and green color isn't as intense as you'd like, puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a standing blender for a brief moment. Strain with a fine-mesh sieve into a medium saucepan and rinse any leafy bits from the sieve. Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl (aluminum will be best for speed-chilling the ice cream batter) and set the sieve on top.

Rewarm the mint cream in the saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. When the cream is warm to the touch, whisk it slowly into the yolks, then scrape the yolk and cream mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping the bottom and sides of pan until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the sieve into the large bowl and stir it into the cream. Chill over an ice bath, stirring constantly, about 10-15 minutes.

Begin freezing the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass measuring cup on 50% power in 45 second bursts, stirring well after each interval, until very warm and fluid. During the last moments of churning, drizzle the melted bittersweet chocolate into the ice cream, taking care to avoid the spinning dasher. Scrape the soft-set ice cream into an airtight container, giving it an extra folding to make sure the stracciatella is mixed evenly into the ice cream. Freeze until firm.

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