La Grotta Ices

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Kitty Travers, La Grotta Ices book has arrived just in time for us to catch some of the early Summer flavours that the undisputed ice-cream queen has captured in recipes that you and I can make right now. Forget the hackneyed flavours and scary colours we’ve become accustomed to,  think rhubarb and raspberry, rhubarb and angelica, blackcurrant leaf water ice, strawberry and elderflower, amalfi lemon jelly ice…

I first came across Kitty selling ice-cream from her little ice-cream cart in Maltby Street Market in 2009 You could choose either a cone or a little tub with a timber scoop. The flavours sang of Summer, the combinations original and the texture deliciously silky.

Kitty came to the Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2012 to share her magic and the story of how an ice-cream obsessed teenager eventually got to follow her dream. (It’s all in the introduction of La Grotta Ices). She brought her pacojet all the way from London by plane so she could show us how she achieved this enticingly smooth texture. A pacojet gives sublime results but you don’t need an expensive machine to make home-made ice-creams and sorbets and granitas. A freezer is of course essential, one can just freeze the mix in a bowl but you’ll need to whisk the icy granules every 30 to 40 minutes. Possible, but definitely a bit laboursome, so next step up is one of those ice-cream machines where you store the ‘churn’ in the freezer overnight before use. Many of the ‘small appliance’ electrical companies make them. They are inexpensive and certainly worth the expense if you enjoy making ice creams and sorbets.

An ice cream machine like Gaggia is more expensive and ever ready but difficult to justify the expense unless you do a lot of entertaining or have a small restaurant or café. Whichever option you choose you’ll need some superb recipes and beautiful ingredients.

The very best rich milk and cream, Jersey, Kerry or Guernsey are beautiful. Super ripe fruit, in season, vanilla extract – nothing fake.  No milk powder to make the texture creamier and more dense. No dextrose or trimoline to allow the ice-cream (or gelato, the Italian word for ice cream) to be more scoopable.

In Kitty’s opinion dry milk powder has a cooked taste that interrupts the sweet pure flavour of fresh cream and milk. It contains roughly 50% lactose compared with fresh milk which is 4.8%.

Skimmed milk powder is a prevalent ingredient in many processed foods even yoghurt, consequently many of us are consuming lactose in much higher quantities than we used to. Kitty wonders if that could be connected to the growing incidence of lactose intolerance – an interesting question…

 

Many of Kitty’s ice creams are made on custard flavoured bases, cooked to no higher than 82°C and then ‘aged’ overnight in a refrigerator at 4°C for at least four hours or better still overnight. Others are made just from milk with maybe a little cream and some tapioca or corn flour. All can be easily reproduced in a home kitchen.

 

Kitty is forever on the lookout for new flavours and flavour combinations. Carrot seed or green walnut apparently make a delicious ice-cream as do pea pods. Sounds unlikely but cucumber and sour cream is one of her customer’s favourite Summer ices – I love it too…

Kitty started in her own kitchen; she now has an Ice-Cream Shed in a converted greengrocers in a charming square in south London. She sells her ice-cream in just three shops in London, Leilas in Calvert Avenue, The General Store in Peckham and and E5 Bakehouse in Hackney. Kitty teaches ice cream classes at School of Artisan Foods in Nottinghamshire  www.schoolofartisanfood.org, but meanwhile rush out and buy Kitty’s book La Grotta Ices so you can enjoy all the flavours of Summer but there are many more delicious flavour combinations for every season – mare than just chocolate

 

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La Grotta Cucumber and Sour Cream

Novelty ice creams are fun to try the first time but unless you want to lick the bowl clean they don’t get added to my list of favourites. Nobody needs to have uneaten ice cream languishing in the freezer getting fish finger-y and frosty. Freezer space is important – you need some room for peas and ice cubes too!

I promise, though, that this recipe is no fad. It’s the most refreshing and pacifying of all ice cream flavours – what could be cooler? It has become a summer tradition, looked forward to – and not just by me.

Salting the cucumber first draws out excess water, concentrates the flavour and improves the texture of the ice cream. The salt should be barely discernable in the end result though. Incredible combined with Strawberry Salad and Dill Seed ice creams or on its own on a really sweaty day.

 

1 cucumber (about 500 g), home-grown or from a farmers’ market if possible (less watery)

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

325 ml whole milk

2 whole eggs

150 g sugar

300 ml sour cream

 

To prepare the ice cream: first peel your cucumber – use a vegetable peeler to remove all of the tough green skin. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scrape out and discard the watery seeds. Dice the cucumber halves then toss them in a bowl with the sea salt. Tip into a colander in the sink to drip. After 20 minutes, rinse the cucumbers briefly in a bowl of cold water and set on a clean tea towel to drain. Chill in the fridge in a lidded container overnight.

 

Heat the milk in a non-reactive pan. Stir often using a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. Once the milk is steaming, whisk the whole eggs and sugar together in a separate bowl until combined.

 

Pour the hot milk over the eggs in a thin stream, whisking continuously. Return all the mix to the pan and cook over a low heat until it reaches 82°C, stirring all the time to avoid curdling the eggs, and keeping a close eye on it so as not to let it boil. As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, place the pan into a sink of iced water to cool. Add the sour cream to the custard and whisk it in – you can speed up the cooling process by stirring the mix every so often. Once the custard is at room temperature, scrape it into a clean container, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge.

 

To make the ice cream: the following day the cucumber will have expelled more water; pour this away then blitz the cucumber and custard together in a blender. Blitz for 2 – 3 minutes until very, very smooth – you don’t want any frozen lumps of cucumber in this ice cream. Use a small ladle to push the cucumber custard through a finemesh sieve or chinois into a clean container.

 

Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine’s instructions, usually 20 – 25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of stiff whipped cream.

 

Scrape the ice cream into a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air. Cover and freeze until ready to serve. Best eaten within a week.

From La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, published by Penguin Random House. Photography by Grant Cornett

 

La Grotta Rhubarb and Raspberry Ripple

This ice cream is prettiest when made with the slim stalks of forced rhubarb from Yorkshire’s magic “Rhubarb Triangle”. The candy-pink sticks transform into clouds of ice cream the colour of bubble-gum.

There’s more to this ice-cream than just retro appeal. The light earthy flavour of the rhubarb is set off with a tart twist of raspberry syrup.

 

150g frozen strawberries

220g sugar

500g forced rhubarb

zest and juice of 1 orange

175ml whole milk

175ml double cream

pinch of sea salt

3 egg yolks

 

To make the raspberry syrup: If you have a microwave, put the berries into a heatproof bowl with 60g of the sugar and simply blast them for a minute or two, until the fruit is very lightly cooked. Other-wise put into a pan with a tablespoon of water and simmer just until the raspberries soften and collapse and the sugar dissolves.

 

Once cooked, leave the berries to cool, and then blitz them with a stick blender. Push the purée through a sieve to remove the pips, squeezing hard to extract as much fruit as possible. Save the pips for pip juice, let the syrup cool and then chill it in the fridge overnight. (A night in the fridge will thicken the syrup considerably).

 

To make the rhubarb: rinse the rhubarb, top and tail the stalks, then slice into 3cm long pieces and place these into a non-reactive pan or heatproof bowl and add the orange zest and juice. Cook very gently until the fruit collapses, either on the hob or in a microwave. If using a pan keep a lid on and shake the pan every so often to prevent sticking. It should take about 10-15 minutes or 2-3 minutes covered in clingfilm in a microwave. Try to avoid boiling the rhubarb as with a sudden ‘ploof!’ it will quickly become stewed and pale mush. Leave to cool completely and then chill in the fridge.

 

To prepare the ice-cream: heat the milk, cream and salt together in a non-reactive pan. Stir often using a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. When the milk is hot, whisk the egg yolks and 160g sugar together until combined.

 

As the milk reaches simmering point, pour it in a thin stream over the yolks, whisking all the time. Return all the mix to the pan and cook over a low heat until it reaches 82°C, stirring constantly to avoid curdling the eggs; keep a close eye on it so as not to let it boil. As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, remove the pan from the heat and place into a sink of iced water to cool – you can speed up the cooling process by stirring it every so often. Once the custard is at room temperature, cover with cling film and chill in fridge.

 

To make the ice-cream; add the chilled rhubarb to the cold custard and liquidise for 2-3 minutes until absolutely smooth. Push the rhubarb custard through a fine-mesh sieve of chinois into a clean container, discarding any leftover fibres.

 

Pour into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine’s instructions, about 20-25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of whipped cream.

 

Working quickly, transfer the ice-cream into a suitable lidded container. Do this in layers, adding a generous layer of chilled raspberry syrup at each go then swirling with a spoon for a marbled effect. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve.

 

Note- cooked rhubarb always benefits form sitting in the fridge overnight…it seems to intensify and draw out the beautiful pink juice.

From La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, published by Penguin Random House. Photography by Grant Cornett

 

La Grotta Pea Pod Ice-cream

In 2009 I was asked to make an ice cream to sell at the Art Car Boot Fair in London’s Bethnal Green, the theme that year was “recession special”. There were a lot of “credit crunchy” kind of flavours going on among cake bakers, but I wanted to try and make a cheap milk ice out of pea pods (pods are popping with sweet fresh flavour but are usually thrown away, and that seems a shame to waste.) I billed it as 100p ice cream and sold scoops for a pound a pop. It went down a storm and I still make it now in the summer – albeit a slightly more costly custard version. It’s delightful served with fresh strawberries or Garriguette Strawberry ice-cream on the side and a sprinkle of sea salt flakes.

 

400g very fresh peas in their pods

400ml whole milk

150ml double cream

small pinch of sea salt

4 egg yolks

130g sugar

 

To prepare the ice cream: wash the peas in their pods and then pod them, reserving the pods. Blanch the fresh podded peas in boiling water for 30 seconds and then refresh them in iced water to preserve their colour; drain and put them in the fridge, covered.

 

Heat the milk, cream and salt together, stirring occasionally. As soon as the liquid reaches simmering point, add the pea pods and simmer them for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and blitz the pods and liquidize them with a stick blender for a minute. Strain the mixture through a sieve, squeezing hard on the pods to extract as much flavour from them as possible. Discard the blitzed pea pods.

 

Wash the pan and pour the fragrant milk and cream mixture back into it. Bring it to a simmer. Stir often using a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. Once the liquid is hot and steaming, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together in a separate bowl until combined.

 

Pour the hot liquid over the yolks in a thin stream, whisking continuously. Return all the mix to the pan and cook over a low heat until it reaches 82°C. Stir constantly to avoid curdling the eggs, and keep a close eye on it so as not to let it boil. As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, place the pan into a sink of iced water to cool. Speed up the cooling process by stirring the mix every so often. Once the custard is a room temperature, scrape it into a clean container, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.

 

To make the ice cream: the following day, add the blanched peas to the custard and liquidise with a stick blender for 2 minutes, or until it turns froggy green. Use a small ladle to push the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to ensure it is perfectly smooth.

 

Pout the custard into an ice cream machine. Churn according to the machine’s instructions, usually about 20-25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of whipped cream.

 

Scrape the ice cream into a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve. Eat within a week.

From La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, published by Penguin Random House. Photography by Grant Cornett

 

La Grotta Sea Salt, Rosemary and Pine Nut

Sadly I can’t make this ice cream that often, because it annoys me too much the way people see the words ‘sea salt’ and literally screech to a halt in front of my ice cream van when it’s on the menu. What is it with sea salt? Sprinkle it on strawberry yoghurt if you love it that much – I’ll be just fine here with all the fresh peach ice cream which no one pays any attention to. Pine nuts though, I can get excited about. I’ve joined Facebook groups for them! Fatty and addictive, with a smokiness that pairs well with sweet and savoury flavours.

In this recipe, liberally salted pine nut brittle is stirred into freshly churned, rosemary scented caramel custard ice cream. I accept it’s utterly delicious. Try it served alongside Roast Chestnut Cremolata

 

120 g sugar

250 ml double cream

350 ml whole milk

Large pinch of sea salt 6 egg yolks 20 – 25 fresh rosemary leaves

For the pine nut and rosemary brittle

100 g pine nuts

100 g sugar

1 heaped teaspoon glucose syrup (makes caramel easier to manage)

20 g butter

15 g rosemary leaves

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

 

To make the pine nut and rosemary brittle: toast the pine nuts over a very low heat in a pan for 10 minutes, until warmed and just coloured, then pour them into a bowl and cover with a clean tea towel to keep them warm.

 

Heat the sugar, glucose and a tablespoon of water together slowly in a pan until the grains of sugar have dissolved. Swirl the pan to mix; do not stir. Add the butter, bring the mix to the boil and boil steadily until it reaches 150°C on your digital thermometer.

Meanwhile, pick the rosemary leaves, adding them to the bowl of pine nuts along with the baking powder and sea salt, then mix well, ensuring there are no lumps of baking powder. Have a whisk or heat – proof spatula to hand.

 

As soon as the sugar reaches 150°C, or a dark caramel colour, tip the pine nut mix in and whisk well to combine. The mixture will bubble up because of the baking powder so use a long heatproof spatula or whisk to keep your hands safe from burns. Allow the nuts to toast to a pale gold colour in the caramel, then remove from the heat.

 

Pour the hot brittle evenly onto a silicone baking mat. Cover with another non-stick baking mat or a double sheet of buttered baking paper, and roll quickly and firmly with a wooden rolling pin to evenly spread the brittle into a half-centimetre layer. Leave to cool.

 

Break the brittle into large pieces and store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container, or roughly smash into chunks ready to add to the freshly churned rosemary-caramel ice cream.

 

To prepare the ice cream: sprinkle the bottom of a heavy-based pan (ideally stainless steel) with 100 g of the sugar in even layer. Place it over a medium heat and cook slowly and without stirring until it begins to melt and caramelise. Swirl the pan to achieve even caramelisation.

 

Cook the caramel to a dark colour until just smoking, then pour in the cream and milk to stop the cooking process. Add the sea salt and warm the liquids over a medium heat to dissolve the caramel, this may take 10 minutes. Stir but do not boil as you don’t want to evaporate the liquid too much. Once the caramel has dissolved, whisk the remaining 20 g sugar with the egg yolks until combined.

 

Pour the hot liquid over the yolks in a thin stream, whisking continuously. Return all the mix to the pan and cook over a low heat until it reaches 82°C, stirring all the time to avoid curdling the eggs and keeping a close eye on it so as not to let it boil. As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, remove from the heat, add the fresh rosemary leaves and stir them in, then place the pan into a sink of iced water to cool. Speed up the cooling process by stirring the mix every so often. Once the custard is at room temperature, transfer it into a clean container, cover with cling film and chill.

 

To make the ice cream: the following day, use a small ladle to push the custard through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois into a clean container. Discard the rosemary leaves then liquidise the cold custard with a stick blender for a minute.

 

Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine’s instructions until frozen and the texture of whipped cream, about 20 – 25 minutes.

 

Transfer the ice cream to a suitable lidded container, sprinkling in generous handfuls of crushed pine nut brittle as you go (you will need about half the amount you made). Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve.

 

Note – just in case you have any left, you can store any extra brittle between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container. I always save silica gel sachets and slip one of these in too for good measure (to help keep the brittle crisp ).

From La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, published by Penguin Random House. Photography by Grant Cornett

 

La Grotta Blackcurrant Leaf Water Ice

Trying the flavour of blackcurrant leaves for the first time is almost like finding out that a new colour exists. It’s a singular perfume…a bit like white acid drops…a bit like green leaves…reminiscent of exciting chemicals.

 

If this sounds weird, don’t let it put you off. It’s delicious enough to be up there as a fourth flavour, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla pale in comparison.

 

200g sugar

420ml water

30g blackcurrant leaf tips, freshly picked and rinsed

4 lemons, ideally unwaxed Amalfi

 

To prepare the water ice: gently heat the sugar and water together in a small pan to make a syrup, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring this syrup to a simmer, then remove it from the heat and add the blackcurrant leaves. Cover the pan with cling film and leave the syrup to cool in an iced water bath for about half an hour.

 

Zest and juice the lemons. Measure out 250ml of the juice (I’m sure you’ll find something to do with any that’s left over) then add this and the zest to the cool syrup. Stir then strain through a fine-mesh sieve, squeezing to extract as much liquid as possible form the blackcurrant leaves. Chill in the fridge.

 

To make the water ice: once the mix is chilled, give it a good stir and then pour into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine’s instructions until frozen and the texture of slushy snow, usually about 20-25 minutes.

 

Scrape the water ice into a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve.

 

Note – this is a water ice rather than a sorbet as it doesn’t have the “body” provided by a fruit purée. It will naturally be icy and a little ‘melty’ but intensely refreshing.

 

Variation – make a delicious refreshing Bunch of Fresh Herbs sorbet by replacing the blackcurrant leaves with 30g fresh soft green herbs or blossoms of your choice. I like to experiment with dill, parsley, basil, chervil, mint or anise hyssop. Even a few honeysuckle, calendula or sweet pea blossoms make a nice addition (maybe not chives). Chop them up finely and add to the hot sugar syrup, then steep for 20 minutes in an ice bath before straining out and proceeding as above.

 

Alternatively, omit the blackcurrant leaves entirely and follow the method above to make a classic Lemon sorbet. It’s nice to add the fresh zest of 1 lemon to the mix before churning for visual appeal – otherwise real lemon sorbet has the misfortune to look like mashed potatoes.

From La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, published by Penguin Random House. Photography by Grant Cornett

 

La Grotta Peach Leaf Milk Ice

 

Like a magic trick, peach leaves appear to be completely flavourless until they are scalded in hot milk for a very specific amount of time (see note). At this point they deliver their extraordinary characteristic– the flavour of crisp toasted almond biscuits. Wow your party guests by live demo-ing this ice cream for them. Wow yourself every time you make it at home!

 

Getting hold of the leaves may prove tricky – I buy bags of them from a stall at Brixton Farmer’s Market, where amazingly a few small knobbly (and slightly green) Sussex-grown peaches are sold each Summer. Or find your own tree: peach trees are notoriously difficult to bear fruit but if you find someone who has a tree they are unlikely to miss a dozen or so leaves if you ask nicely.

 

This recipe employs the use of a simple milk base, thickened with a natural vegetable starch so as not to interfere with the pure taste of peach leaf. A surprising and refreshing ice, delicious with a side of lightly sugared, sliced stone fruit.

 

160g sugar

15g tapioca starch or cornflour

550ml while milk

100ml double cream

15-20 fresh peach leaves

 

To prepare the milk ice: prepare a sink full of iced water, and a timer set to time 3 minutes. Have a clean bowl ready with a fine mesh sieve set over it. In a bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons of the sugar into the tapioca starch or cornflour.

 

Heat the remaining sugar with the milk and cream in a pan over a low heat, stirring often with a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. Once the liquid is hot and steaming, pour it into the bowl containing the starch. Whisk constantly to combine it well without lumps forming.

 

Return all the mix to the pan and cook over a low heat, whisking constantly just until it starts to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the peach leaves then cover the pan tightly with cling film and place in a sink full of iced water to cool. Start the timer.

 

After exactly 3 minutes remove the pan and pour the mix through the sieve. Squeeze hard to extract as much flavour as possible from the peach leaves. You should see a tint of pale acid green seep into the mix with the last squeezes. Discard the remaining leaves.

 

Return the pan to the sink to cool completely before covering and chilling in the fridge overnight.

 

To make the milk ice: the following day, liquidise the peach leaf mixture with a stick blender for 1 minute; this will help liquefy the mix.

 

Pour the mix into an ice cream machine. Churn according to the machine’s instructions, about 20-25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of whipped cream.

 

Scrape the milk ice into a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve. This ice will keep for a few days but is best eaten straight away – as the recipe contains no egg yolk and very little cream it freezes quite hard and can become icy otherwise.

 

Note- it’s vital that you use a timer for this so that the peach leaves are steeped for no more than 3 minutes precisely – any longer and the flavour changes completely, to one of over ripe compost.

 

Variations – make a clean and pure tasting Fig Leaf Milk Ice by following the recipe above and replacing the peach leaves with 2 large or 3 small fresh fig leaves.

 

Make Pea Pod Milk Ice by simmering 350g shelled pea pods for 3-4 minutes in the milk and cream mixture (before you add the starch), then blitz with a stick blender and strain before returning the mix to a clean pan. Bring to steaming point and then pour over the starch in the bowl and continue as above.

From La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, published by Penguin Random House. Photography by Grant Cornett

 

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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