Recipe: Strawberry Sorbetto with Vanilla and Balsamico
As a food writer and cooking teacher who occasionally appears in public at demos and signings where people have a chance to ask me questions, I have to admit that something always baffles me. Now, I don’t want to sound like an ingrate. I really enjoy these events. But I’m constantly perplexed when people ask me, “What’s your favorite Italian recipe?,” or “What’s your favorite pasta dish?,” or, most disturbing of all, ‘What recipe do you like the best?” The fact that these are unanswerable questions for me, and, I would have to imagine, for anyone who cooks for a living, doesn’t seem to matter. People have a need to know what pros think is the best of the best, as if a whole world of passion and knowledge could be narrowed down to one focal point. Strange and, I have to admit, maybe kind of dopey.
I was thinking about this while working on this recipe for strawberry sorbetto. I found myself asking, what is my favorite fruit? I love all fruit, I really do. Some I find more fascinating than others, but it occurred to me that I do actually love strawberries more than most other fruit. I can’t say they’re my favorite, but they are very nearly. And right now, at this moment, I’d have to say they are foremost on my mind. So maybe the dopey questions asked by people who really want to know what a food professional’s favorite whatever is aren’t so dopey after all. I guess the question should be, “What is your favorite pasta right now?” That is an answerable question, as opposed to “ever,” which will always remain unanswerable. Right now my favorite pasta is penne with asparagus, spring onions, and prosciutto. And right now my favorite fruit is strawberry. Ask me in January, and I won’t say strawberry unless my head is in some place of deep nostalgia (as it very well might be).
To celebrate my favorite fruit (of right now), I decided to make a sorbetto. I didn’t want to do anything too radical, anything that would mask the beautiful flavor of spring strawberries, but I did want to create something new. Most fruit sorbetti are brightened by the addition of a squirt of lemon, which makes a fruit’s intrinsic flavor more pointed, more vibrant. That’s pretty much a given. And we all know the time-honored pairing of strawberries with balsamic vinegar. So I figured vinegar could stand in for lemon, elevating the strawberry-ness of strawberries but also adding its own richness, which it did. But there was something a little to strident about the taste, so I tried it again, this time tempering the mix with vanilla and a dollop of crème fraiche. Now I’m happy with this more rounded result. Strawberries on parade, just delicately elevated. Nothing dopey about it.
Strawberry Sorbetto with Vanilla and Balsamico
(Makes about 1½ pints)
1 cup sugar
½ a vanilla bean, split
2 pints local spring strawberries, hulled
1 heaping tablespoon crème fraiche
1 teaspoon good quality balsamic vinegar
You’ll want to start by making a vanilla-flavored simple syrup: Put the sugar and the vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Add ½ cup water, and give it a stir. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 4 or 5 minutes. You don’t want it to caramelize. Remove the vanilla bean, and, with a sharp little knife, scrape out any of the insides that haven’t come out during boiling. Add them to the syrup, and stir them in. Cool completely.
Place the strawberries in a food processor, and work until very smooth (I don’t bother to strain this, as I like the texture with the little black bits, but you can if you want to). Add the crème fraiche, and pulse a few times to blend it in.
Start adding the syrup a little at a time and pulsing it into the strawberry mixture. Depending on the sweetness of your fruit you may or may not want to use it all. Just do it by taste. Then add the balsamic vinegar, and pulse once or twice more to blend it.
Let this mixture chill for about an hour, and then run it through your ice cream machine. You’ll probably need to freeze it for a few hours after that to firm up the texture.