I make frozen desserts year round – gelati, sorbetti, semifreddi – and my gelato machine occupies pride of place on my kitchen counter. I like to put a new spin on the classics, and here is one. This simple gelato infused with the taste of tiny new basil leaves and the unctuous richness of fine olive oil gives new focus to an old classic.
If you have never tried olive oil or green herbs in dessert, don’t be timid. The oil adds a richness to creamy desserts that no other ingredient can match, and the green basil adds a whisper of lemon and licorice. Besides, it is good for you. What more could you possibly ask for in a dessert? With this one you get the beneficial anti-oxidant effects of olive oil’s polyphenols and, on the side, the berries’ anthocyanins. It’s called a win-win.
For a truly divine olive oil experience I recommend you use an oil you love, and be certain it is fresh, well within two years of pressing and harvest. Because of the gentle flavor of the dairy, the olive flavor will come through front and center. Move away from the spicy, robust oils of Tuscany to something from farther south, much farther south.
Try the pride of Sicily, Pianogrillo, an organic oil from Ragusa. This monocultivar (an oil pressed from just one type of olive), is produced from Tonda Iblea olives. Lorenzo Piccione produces this premium oil, handpicking the fruit at the peak of readiness from October through early weeks of December. Collected in crates, and carefully handled to avoid bruising and attendant oxidation, the olives are pressed in a state of the art mill, guaranteeing the freshest taste and highest quality possible.
Extremely low acid, with an elegance that almost defies description, Pianogrillo has the most delightful grassiness with a taste of tomato leaves, almonds, and a finish of artichoke. It is the essence of Sicily, yet another example of the finest of Italian products available to us here in America. Pianogrillo oil is available online from Gustiamo.com. This oil is not for gelato alone! Try it over pasta or other foods, and you will become a convert.
I have added the decorative flourish of tiny basil leaves. These leaves’ miniature size belies their full basil flavor. Light on licorice and lemon, they complement the berries and olive oil. The plants are small and do well in pots. You may find plants or seeds at your garden center. If you can’t find them near home, seeds are available from Seeds from Italy, a company that specializes in Italian vegetables and herbs. Visit their site at GrowItalian.com and look for either Basil Verde Piccolo Foglie or Basil Fine Nano Compatto e Palla. These small leaves are a delight in salads, pasta and atop crostini.
makes 1 scant quart
1 ¼ cup whole milk
½ cup basil leaves, torn
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
⅓ cup Pianogrillo Extra Virgin Olive Oil
fresh blueberries, blackberries and tiny basil leaves for service
To prepare the custard base combine the milk, basil, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and cook until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan, a process known as scalding. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set aside to steep for 20 minutes. Strain and discard the basil.
After the milk has steeped and been strained, return the milk to the saucepan and reheat. As the milk mixture heats, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until lightened. Slowly dibble the hot milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Combining the egg yolks and milk in this fashion, a process known as tempering, will slowly heat the egg yolks and prevent them from curdling when they hit the heat of the stove and saucepan.
Return the mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan with a heatproof spatula until the mixture reaches 175 degrees F. and coats the back of the spatula.
While the custard cooks, pour the cream into a medium bowl. Prepare a second, larger bowl for use as an ice water bath by filling it halfway with ice water. Set both bowls aside.
Strain the custard into the bowl containing the cream and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil and whisk well to incorporate. Set the bowl over the ice bath to cool. Stir occasionally until cool, being careful not to slosh any water into the gelato base. Refrigerate the base 4 hours or overnight to chill completely. Freeze in a gelato maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pack the gelato into a freezer container and freeze for 3 to 4 hours prior to serving. Serve accompanied by berries and tiny basil leaves.