When I was first playing about with the recipe, the sun was shining. Every day was hotter than the last, and I found myself seeking out dishes that were cooling, that were fresh, and made me feel like I was on holiday.
Looking ahead to when this recipe might go out I was fairly confident that it would hit the right note at the height of summer: July might have a damp day here and there, but overall, it seemed a relatively safe bet for days and nights of heat, the kind of time where there’s a sudden run on paddling pools, and ice cream becomes near medicinal.
But as I write this, we are on what feels like day 74 of rain. And not short showers, but relentless, cold, miserable rain. My neighbour has just run past the window in a raincoat. The sky is so dark that we had to put on the big light at 3pm. I’m considering making soup. I’ve even (don’t tell my husband) turned on the heating.
While it may not look terribly summery outside, you wouldn’t know it from my strawberry pot. I’ve never really grown fruit or veg before, beyond an apple tree in the garden that I didn’t plant.
But I find that I don’t even mind braving the rain to pull the little strawbs from my pot, and gather them damply in my kitchen. And if I churn them into an ice cream, the flavour, and the memories that go with it, can almost convince me I’m sitting somewhere warm and sunny, rather than tracking the raindrops down my window.
I love preparing strawberries: even if it’s something as simple as slicing them in half and bunging them in the oven. The scent of the strawberries follows me around the house, long after I’ve washed my hands. Roasting the strawberries intensifies this perfume. Roasting fruit tends to make it softer, sweeter, and more distinct in flavour – and if the fruit is a little insipid or under-ripe, it will mask their lesser qualities, rounding them out, making them more complex and delicious. Simply put, it makes fruit taste fruitier. So, as long as you don’t need the physical integrity of the fruit in your dish, roasting them can feel like a no-brainer.
Roasting strawberries for ice cream is an idea I got from Paris-dwelling food writer David Lebovitz: with ice cream, there’s an advantage to the roasting that goes beyond flavour. If you put chunks of raw fruit into an ice cream, you’ll find that the water content in the fruit freezes, creating little, unpleasant icey chunks. By roasting the strawberries with sugar and a splash of booze (I like marsala, but sweet sherries work, and dark, sticky Pedro Ximinez is especially delicious – or if you’d rather keep it booze free, you can use balsamic vinegar), you are cooking sugar and alcohol into the fruit, which will stop them freezing so hard, and keep them tender.
Here, after roasting the strawberries until they are scarlet and soft, I blitz the majority of the strawberries and sieve them to form a smooth, vibrant, exceptionally delicious puree. The base of the ice cream is a classic vanilla custard, made with egg yolks, and a mixture of cream and milk. It is smooth and rich and, when the strawberry puree is stirred into it, it is clean and fruity, bright and sweet. And finally, with those little nuggets of sweet, boozy strawberry folded through at the last moment, it’s a stunner of an ice cream.
Strawberry ice cream
Makes: 1 litre of ice cream
Tales: plus, freezing
Bakes: No time at all
500g strawberries, hulled
50g caster sugar
30ml marsala (or other alcohol of your choice)
200g whole milk
200g double cream
150g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
½ teaspoon fine salt
½ teaspoon vanilla paste
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
2. Slice the strawberries in half (or quarters, if your strawberries are monsters). Place in a roasting tin, sprinkle with 50g caster sugar, and drizzle over the marsala. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the strawberries are collapsed and fragrant. Set to one side to cool completely.
3. To make your custard, heat the milk and cream with the vanilla and salt until steaming. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and 150g caster sugar until thick and pale. Once steaming, pour a little of the milk mixture onto the egg yolks and sugar, whisking the whole time. Continue adding the hot milk until the egg yolk mixture is loose enough to pour. Pour the milky egg yolks back into the pan of milk, and cook over a low heat, stirring with a spatula. The custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon, and you can swipe a finger through the back of the spoon, and the line holds. Sieve into a jug, cover, and refrigerate until completely cold.
4. Using a hand blender, blitz ⅔ of the roasted strawberries into a puree, and pass this through a sieve. Stir the puree thoroughly into your cold custard.
5. Follow your manufacturer’s instructions to churn and freeze your ice cream. In the last five minutes of churning add the remaining roasted strawberries (and any remaining juice). You just want these to be incorporated, not obliterated.
6. Serve straight away or, if your ice cream machine requires it or you don’t wish to serve straight away, transfer to an airtight container, and freeze until hard.