Rosemary Olive Oil Ice Cream
The basil plant was the first to go, its fragrant leaves curling in, then turning yellow and limp. Next it was the mint. I can’t remember who told me that mint grows like a weed and is impossible to kill, but they were wrong. The only thing weed-like about my spearmint plant is the apocalyptic-looking skeleton it left behind when it died, like it was doused by a gallon of Roundup. Now you can count one dead rosemary bush among my summer’s worth of failed gardening achievements. Loved and, perhaps, a bit over-watered, I thought I’d let it dry out a bit. But then I forgot about it altogether. Now my rosemary looks like a tiny Ponderosa pine sapling struck by lightening. So much for developing a green thumb. Mine is black and blue.
This last gardening defeat was the most tragic because I love to cook with rosemary. An incredibly versatile Mediterranean evergreen herb from the mint family, rosemary complements both sweet and savory dishes. This summer I snipped its slightly woody branches from the bush and soaked them to smoke shrimp, tucked whole, silvery-green leaves into fresh ricotta drizzled with honey for a bruschetta and snuck it chopped up fine into an earthy rhubarb crisp. I was looking forward to baking it into Nancy Silverton’s rosemary olive oil cakes when the Indian Summer heat finally started to retreat— the lemony-fresh smell of the rosemary plays perfectly with the fruitiness of the olive oil in a moist, bite-sized treat I like for breakfast, mid-day snack and after dinner— and finding myself without a go-to rosemary plant made me want to bake them all the more. But by the time I made it to the farmers’ market to pick up some sprigs from Lily, our brief reprieve from the fall heat wave had ended. And if there was anything I learned in the last couple of weeks, it was that you couldn’t make it feel like anymore like fall on a 90-degree day with the oven cranked to 350-degrees.
Instead I decided to combine my rosemary obsession with the one I’d nurtured over the summer for ice cream. I’d had olive oil ice cream before, served with the rosemary olive oil cakes at Osteria Mozza, so it didn’t seem like a huge leap to infuse the ice cream with rosemary, sprinkle the finished product with Malden sea salt and skip the baking altogether. I was seeking a dessert treat that was at once savory and sweet, earthy, fruity and satisfying, who said it had to be a baked goodie?
The rosemary worked like a culinary gouache in the first batch, amplifying the citrus-y flavor of the olive oil so that it tasted a little like a green creamsicle. In the second batch I doubled the amount of rosemary, simmering it with the milk and sugar briefly then letting it steep for an hour. This treatment brought the rosemary flavor out from the wings, letting it shine alongside the olive oil, which also tasted more potent this time. The dusting of Malden on the finished scoop added an eating-ice-cream-by-the-sea quality as well as a nice textural counterpoint.
While the ice cream wasn’t a panacea for my gardening woes—I think my lavender bit the dust while writing this piece—it reminded me that growing my own herbs is worth another try. And, remarkably, it cooled off today, which means, maybe if I keep cooking like it’s the middle of summer, I’ll finally get the fall I’ve been hungry for.
Rosemary Olive Oil Ice Cream
2 c whole milk
¾ c cream
2 oz fresh rosemary
¾ c sugar
½ c fruit extra virgin olive oil
Malden sea salt
Combine sugar, milk and rosemary sprigs in a medium saucepan. Heat slowly to a simmer over medium-low until the sugar dissolves, stirring often. Remove from heat and cover. Steep for one hour.
Pour cream into a medium bowl and place a strainer over it.
In another bowl, lightly beat three eggs. Slowly beat the warm milk mixture into the eggs with a whisk, tempering them. Once all of the milk has been added to the eggs, return all of the mixture to the saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring constantly until the custard thickens slightly.
Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream to remove any lumps. Whisk in olive oil. Cover and chill overnight, then freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions.
Garnish the finished ice cream with a pinch of Malden and some fresh rosemary springs.