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Staff Favorites: Blueberry, Basil and Begging

Howard Foer's lemon semifreddo-blueberry basil ice cream dessert; to make the purple part, read on. (Patti Harburger)

Are you the kind of diner who can be so taken with a dish that you ask the chef for the recipe? I always hope my request comes across as a compliment and not a bother.

After scribbles or cards are exchanged (and my dinner companions get over being slightly embarrassed), the wait for an e-mail begins. Chefs are busy; nobody wants a stalker situation. But that taste of whatever it was becomes an obsession. You tell others about it, and they don’t quite get it. (How could they?)

My most recent quest ended a few days ago, when I received the lowdown on Howard Foer’s blueberry-basil ice cream. (Doesn’t that sound great? I won’t keep you in suspense; it is.) Howard’s the chef-owner of Poplar Springs the Inn Spa in Casanova, Va., a lovely retreat not too far from Warrenton, and he runs the Festive Foods catering business with his wife, Lauren Levine.

Blueberry and basil are two of his favorite flavors. He has made a savory sauce with them in the past; he’ll often experiment with savory flavors in ice cream and says his foie gras ice cream is something to try. This year, he assigned his pastry chef to put the blueberry-basil axis to work. The ice cream will be on the Poplar Springs menu through the summer.

It was one component of a dessert he served at a recent dinner I attended. The ice cream was frozen in a half-moon mold and paired with a half-moon of Meyer lemon semifreddo. They sat on a tidy shortbread platform. Short swaths of creamy Meyer lemon curd and sweetened basil puree joined them on the plate, along with two light-as-air sticks of basil-flecked meringue, a few berries and some candied lemon peel.

I would never attempt to re-create the whole thing, but that lavender-hued stuff was magic. Had to have it.

Lucky for me, Howard finally sent a simple recipe that worked the first time I made it, although the color of mine was grayer than his. The chef says it may depend on the berries. It sure tastes as good as I remember. Both flavors shine through.

In truth, I had never understood why people go to the trouble of making ice cream at home. I get it now.

-- Bonnie Benwick

Blueberry-Basil Ice Cream
Makes ten 1/2-cup servings

MAKE AHEAD: The ice cream mixture needs to be chilled overnight before placing it in the ice cream maker for processing. The ice cream needs at least 2 hours’ time in the freezer before serving.

12 ounces blueberries, stemmed and rinsed
15 to 18 basil leaves (1/4 cup, packed)
1 1/4 cups sugar
12 large egg yolks (3/4 cup)
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint half-and-half

Combine the blueberries, basil and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until the berries mostly collapse and yield their juices. Transfer the mixture to a blender and let it cool there for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the ice cream base: Combine the remaining cup of sugar and the egg yolks in a large mixing bowl, stirring to form a thick mixture.

Combine the heavy cream and half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium heat just until it bubbles at the edges. Remove from the heat.

Whisk about 1/2 cup of the heated dairy mixture into the egg yolk-sugar mixture; this will help temper the egg yolks. Then slowly whisk in the remaining heated mixture, taking care not to overheat the egg yolks (or they may curdle).

Pour the combined mixture into a large saucepan; heat over medium to medium-low heat, stirring until it has thickened almost to a pancake-batter consistency and can coat the back of a spoon (6 to 8 minutes). Remove from the heat. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean deep bowl.

Puree the cooled blueberry mixture in the blender until smooth, then strain, if desired, into the ice cream base. Stir to mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours (overnight). The mixture should be noticeably thicker.

Transfer to the frozen container of an ice cream maker and process, following the manufacturer’s directions (20 to 30 minutes). The ice cream will be soft but servable right away. For best results, transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid, then cover and freeze for about 2 hours before serving.

Per 1/2-cup serving: 406 calories, 5 g protein, 32 g carbs, 26 g fat, 16 saturated fat, 340 mg cholesterol, 61 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 31 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  May 14, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Staff Favorites  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, recipes  
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Looks great. I thought the meringue sticks were candy cigarettes and was really perplexed until I read the article!

Posted by: LilyBell | May 14, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

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