Portland, Oregon is gelato country. Not ice cream country—jeh-lah-toh country. No matter which direction I set out on my walk each day from Northwest PDX, I pass at least one gelato shop along the way.
The challenge is to walk by without stopping in for “just a taste.” One taste always leads to another taste, which always leads to a scoop each of two complementary flavors–one tart fruit based, the other cream based (as in sweet cream, cream cheese, crème fraiche, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, or mascarpone). It’s a perfect partnership.
The good news is that gelato is usually made with milk and only a small amount of cream, making it significantly lower in fat than ice cream, which is often made with much more cream. Less fat also means that fruit flavors really shine. Taste a strawberry ice cream with 16%-20% butterfat and then taste a strawberry gelato with only 12% butterfat. The difference in fruit intensity on the palate is pronounced.
Another difference is that gelato is typically slow churned so that less air is whipped into the mix. Less air means a smoother, denser end product. Some folks like air fluffed ice cream, but I’m not one of them.
Although Portland gelato is almost always creamy, dense, and delicious, gelato makers could be a bit more adventurous with their flavor combinations. Coconut is nice, but coconut with lime would be divine. And will some gelato maker in metropolitan Portland please-please make a dark chocolate with fresh rosemary gelato this summer? I’m willing to walk 2 miles in the blazing heat for that one.
But in the meanwhile, strawberries and fresh basil are overflowing Northwest farmers markets. The flavor pairing is unusual and quite delicious, especially with the added tang of sour cream and lime, with just a hint of vanilla. You can make it yourself and relax with a pitcher of iced tea on the deck while the gelato hardens in the freezer. In the current heat wave, that might be a better idea than walking around town. Plus, you will find this intriquing flavor combination only in your own kitchen.
Strawberry Basil Sour Cream Gelato
Gelato and ice cream are made by combining a basic custard sauce, optional extra cream, and flavorings, and then churning the mixture in an ice cream maker. There is really nothing more to it than that.
For this gelato, I used fresh, raw strawberries for the first test. The result was good, but for test two, I cooked the strawberries briefly and the flavor and color intensity were both enhanced. So that’s what I am specifying here.
Note Do allow 6-8 hours to thoroughly chill the custard sauce plus several hours in the freezer after churning to harden the gelato. Ice cream or gelato made without stabilizers is best eaten within a two days after freezing.
1 pound fresh ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced (3 cups stemmed and sliced)
¼ cup superfine sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ ounce fresh basil (small handful of tender leaves without thick stems)
2 cups whole milk
4-inch piece vanilla bean, split
4 large egg yolks
½ cup superfine sugar
1 cup sour cream
- In a small saucepan, add the strawberries, ¼ cup sugar, and lime juice. Stir to combine and let macerate for 15 minutes. Put the pan over medium-low heat, cover partially, and cook gently for 8-10 minutes, until the strawberries are fully tender and the juices have thickened somewhat. Let cool.
- In a processor or blender, coarsely chop the strawberries and then add the basil and continue to finely chop. You want visible bits of strawberry and basil here, so don’t puree completely. Reserve.
- Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the milk in a large saucepan, add the scraped bean, and slowly bring to a bare simmer. Remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Remove the bean, rinse and dry it, and save for another use.
- In a large, clean saucepan, whisk the egg yolks and remaining ½ cup sugar together just until well combined.
- Very gradually pour in the hot milk, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon to avoid activating the foam. If you add the hot milk to quickly, you will curdle the egg yolks. (You do not want to activate the foam.)
- Heat and keep stirring until the foam starts to subside. At 165° the foam should be fully incorporated. Continue cooking until the custard reaches 170°-175°. (The egg yolks will turn granular at 185°, just as they begin to simmer, so do not take the custard too near this temperature.)
- Quickly remove the pan from the heat, add the sour cream, and whisk the custard rapidly to cool. (You may also want to immerse the pan partially in a larger pan of ice water as a precautionary measure. It is a good idea to have such a pan ready, just in case.)
- Strain the sauce, if you wish, to rid it of egg white “watchamacallits.” (This really is a good idea, although many times I am in too much of a rush to bother with it. I have yet to run into one of those particularly unappetizing egg white goodies in my mouth, but I suppose I will one day if I do not abide by the rules—as might you!)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the custard sauce and strawberry mixture.
- Cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6-8 hours, or preferably overnight.
- Using an ice cream maker, churn until set according to the manufacturers directions. Freeze for at least 3-4 hours to harden, and then serve within 24 hours.
Makes approximately 1 quart.