Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hot Summer Days

The best thing about summer is the heat.  Scorching blue skies that beg for generous helpings of cool, refreshing ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, and sorbet.  While I know people who believe ice cream is a necessity all year round, I think that it would not be a stretch to suggest that it makes its strongest argument for existence during the hot summer months.  

I recently suffered my first sunburn of the season, and subsequently have been tirelessly searching for a ice cream recipe to make.  The search for the perfect recipe was as exciting as it was terrifying.  Salted butter caramel ice cream sounded equally delicious as it did deadly.  Overtly healthy recipes were also a nonstarter - ice cream is supposed to be a treat.  I was surprised to find a recipe in the ice cream section of Gourmet Today, for cherry gelato that called for a relatively small amount heart-stopping fats (it uses whole milk instead of 2 cups of cream, plus lots rich egg yolks that every other recipe seems to rely on).  Gourmet recipes by and large utilize butter and cream with delicious, if somewhat reckless abandon, so I trust that when one of their recipes uses lighter ingredients it is not due to a fear of fat. 

Plus cherries are so delicious.  Now that I think about it - aren't the juicy-ripe fruits the best thing about summer?  
Luckily, this recipe combines the two best things about summer, fruit and ice-y treats.  The result is sweet and satisfying, with the added bonus that it will not seriously compromise your health, and subsequently your enjoyment of the beautiful weather.  What more can you ask for?  Actually, I have one tiny little suggestion: chocolate.  I think that the addition of a little chocolate (some chips or sauce) would be very good.  

Cherry Gelato
From Gourmet Today

1/2 vanilla bean*
3 1/2 cups whole milk
pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
1/2 cup turbinado sugar, such as sugar in the raw
2 Tbsp cornstarch 

1/2 lb (1 1/2 cups) fresh bing cherries (pitted)
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 tsp almond extract

Special equipment: Ice cream maker (remember to chill beforehand it if necessary)

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a small heavy saucepan.  Add the milk and salt and bring just to a boil; remove from heat.

Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, add 1/2 cup hot milk mixture to sugar mixture, whisking until smooth, and whisk into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, whisking, and simmer, whisking, for three minutes.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl.  Refrigerate, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cool, about 1 hour, then cover and refrigerate until very cold, 3-6 hours.

Meanwhile, pulse the cherries with sugar and extracts in a food processor until finely chopped.  Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour. 

Once everything is thoroughly chilled, stir the cherries, with their juices into the gelato base.  Freeze in ice cream maker.  Transfer gelato to an airtight container and put in the freezer to harden for at least 2 hours.

*I spent my discretionary funds buying almond extract, so I cheaped out on the vanilla bean and just doubled the amount of vanilla extract.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Artichoke Opportunity

I have been eyeing an artichoke recipe in the Zuni Cafe cookbook for quite a while.  Recently, however, I found myself turning to the picture first, and then the recipe, very frequently.  Maybe a little obsessively.  I was just waiting for the right time to make it.  

That time was yesterday.  Let's just say I pounced on the opportunity.  Unfortunately, it was good enough that I am sure I will soon be back where I started: scheming for a chance to make it again.  

This recipe is really wonderful.  The artichokes are rich and meaty, the onions are silky and sweet, and the lemon imbues everything with it's bright flavor and fragrance.  

As a side I would suggest that 1/2 of a meaty artichoke is plenty for each guest.  I used three for 6 people and it worked well.  From start to finish the recipe took about 3 hours.

Baked Artichokes
with Onions, Lemons, Black Olives & Rosemary* 

2 lbs sweet yellow onions (sliced thinly)
3/4 - 1 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves (slivered)
1/3 cup nicoise or gaeta olives (rinsed)
12 mint leaves or 1 sprig of fresh rosemary (coarsely chopped)
1/2 lemon (cut lengthwise)
6 Tbsp dry white wine
4 bright green, tightly closed artichokes with big blooms, meaty bottoms and thick stems
A little water, as needed
Parchment paper & aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 375

Toss the sliced onions with 1/2 cup olive oil & 1 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the garlic, olives and rosemary or mint.  Go ahead and put this mixture into the large, flameproof baking dish you will be using.  

Trim off the pithy end of the lemon and slice it as thinly as possible into half moons, removing the seeds as you go.  Toss the lemon slices with the onion mixture, add the wine, and set aside.

Trim the bottom of the stem of each artichoke and carefully peel the stalk (remove the tough outer skin).  Remove the damaged, dry, and tough outer leaves.  Trim the thorns (tops of the leaves).  Cut the artichokes in half, then use a spoon (a grapefruit spoon worked really well here), to remove the choke, leaving the meaty bottom intact.  Rinse in cold water (don't drain well, the water between the leaves will help cook the artichoke evenly).  

Sprinkle the artichokes with salt, try to get a little between the leaves as well.  Drizzle them with olive oil to coat the outsides, and also try to get some oil between the leaves.  

Nestle the artichokes cut side down in the bed of onions.  You may have to add some water if the liquid from the onions is not sufficient - it should be about 1/2 inch deep.  

Heat gently over a low flame until the liquid is bubbling, then cover tightly, first with parchment paper, then with foil (dull side out).  Bake until the base is tender, about 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the artichokes.  

Once a test leaf is tender, remove the foil and paper, and raise oven temperature to 400.  Bake for another 15 minutes.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  They should be good (better even) the next day.  They can be reheated, loosely covered, at 300.

*the recipe calls for Mint, but suggested that the substitution of rosemary is also good (it was).