One of the books I’ll turn to time and again when in need of some recipe inspiration is A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gingell. Inspired by the seasons and full of interesting yet accessible flavour combinations, it manages to be both sumptuous and simple at the same time, and with dozens of beautiful recipes based on a ‘tool box’ of core basics – stocks, spice mixes, flavoured oils, custards etc – it’s something I can’t imagine ever getting bored of. Skye’s enthusiasm for food and avoidance of any overtly cheffy pretension are what really make this book, and my regular use of it is evident in the well-thumbed, slightly spattered pages and rapidly weakening spine.
Surprising, then, that until last weekend I’d not made a single dessert from this book. Looking at my blog you’d likely assume that something sweet would be the first thing I’d want to road test, and while this is often the case – my natural inclination is to scour the index of a new book for sections on sweets and baking – with A Year in My Kitchen I just haven’t felt the inclination. Perhaps it’s the fruity nature of the desserts on offer – I have a somewhat unhealthy in-built radar for anything of a chocolate, caramel or sticky-sweet persuasion – but it could well be that the other recipes have been simply too distractingly good to allow me time to pause and consider pudding.
I’ve been wanting to make something rhubarb-based for a while now. Growing up I was never a huge fan; my Mum’s stewed rhubarb with its austere amount of sugar and strands of fibrous flesh never really appealed (this is not a criticism of her cooking, I have her to thank for my lack of fillings and it seems that rhubarb can’t help but take on a slightly funny texture when cooked). However, recently I’ve been seduced by the thick stems of forced rhubarb beckoning from the shelves of my local shops, their pale pink skin stretched round iridescent white middles to make them look not dissimilar to a natural stick of rock.
Another obsession at the moment is blood oranges, their gorgeous ruby-red flesh as shiny and covetable as any jewel, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner (don’t pretend it’s not on your radar, even if you’re the most jaded cynic or don’t like to celebrate the day it’s impossible to ignore), the idea of combining the pinks and reds of these two precious fruits felt like the right thing to do. Knowing I’m not a fan of the soft strings of stewed rhubarb in its immediate state, I set about looking for other recipes, and low and behold, Skye Gingell has a recipe for Winter Rhubarb Ice Cream.
Carnivorous Boyfriend and I don’t go in for Valentine’s Day in a big way. It’s our anniversary a couple of weeks before which always feels like a more valid cause for celebration, and when what seems like the rest of the world are shelling out for overpriced set menus in underwhelming restaurants teeming with tables for two, I actually prefer to stay home for the evening to cook the food I want with the person I love. However that’s not to say I’m completely averse to the odd romantic cliché, and when I got a silicon tray with little heart-shaped muffin moulds in my stocking this Christmas, I knew I could put it to use on Valentine’s Day.
The recipe below was a bit of a trial run. If you’re making the perfect Valentine’s meal, you want to make sure you get it right, and I wasn’t 100% sure that it would work first time. I’ve substituted the slightly acidic verjuice (made by pressing unripe grapes) of Skye’s recipe with blood orange juice, and cloaked the whole thing in a shell of very thin dark chocolate. I’d originally intended to use white, but as I rushed to melt it late one evening while the ice cream churned (sometimes the only window of opportunity a working week will allow), my chocolate caught and seized rendering it useless to line my muffin moulds. With no white chocolate in reserve, I resorted to a bar of dark, and in actual fact I think it works well with the sweet, creamy slightly acidic ice cream Just be careful to make your shell as thin as possible to ensure it doesn’t overpower the delicate flavours beneath.
Fitting, perhaps, that this recipe is adapted from one of Skye Gingell’s; if I was the kind of person who eats out on Valentine’s Day, somewhere like her secluded, understated and utterly delicious restaurant at The Petersham Nurseries would be high on my list of perfect places. As it is, I’m more likely to be staying in and snuggling down, and if there are any left when Valentine’s Day comes around (which seems highly unlikely in our – ok my – sweet-toothed household), I’ll be more than happy with one of these soft, , slightly tart melting heart ice creams.
Broken hearts should be avoided at all costs on Valentine’s Day. Unless, of course, they’re of the edible, chocolate coated variety.
Rhubarb & Blood Orange Ice Cream (adapted from A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gingell)
500g rhubarb, trimmed & chopped into rough chunks
1 vanilla pod
150g golden caster sugar
75ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice
75ml full fat milk
225ml double cream
3 large free range egg yolks, beaten
200g good quality dark chocolate
50g unsalted butter
Get an 8 cup silicon muffin tray and pop it in the freezer to chill.
For your compote, halve your vanilla pod and scrape the seeds from one half into a medium saucepan, reserving the other half. Add the rhubarb, sugar, blood orange juice and water and place over a low heat, stirring gently. Bring to a simmer then turn down and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until soft.
Remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and reduce the remaining liquid by half. Pour your syrup back over the reserved rhubarb and allow to cool.
For the ice cream custard, pour the milk and cream into a pan with the seeds scraped from the other half of your vanilla pod. Bring almost to the boil then remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until the mix becomes thick and pale, about five minutes. Gently reheat the milk and cream mixture and pour it over the eggs, whisking briskly until combined.
Return the whole mixture to your pan and place over a low heat, stirring gently with a flat wooden spatula until the custard thickens – this should take about six to eight minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and allow to cool.
Once the custard has cooled completely, stir through the rhubarb compote. Don’t worry if it’s a little stringy – the strands of fibrous flesh give a lovely rhubarb-ripple effect in the finished ice cream. Pour the whole mixture into your ice-cream maker and churn.
In the meantime, melt your chocolate and butter together in a bain marie. Allow to cool slightly, then remove your muffin tray from the freezer and pour about a teaspoon of the mixture into the bottom of each hole (my tray was a heart-shaped one like this, but please do adjust quantities to whatever you are using). Using a pastry brush, brush the melted chocolate up the sides of the mould until completely coated with a thin, even layer. Return to the freezer to chill until your ice cream is ready.
When the ice cream is almost ready, smooth and creamy but still soft and scoopable, stop the machine. Get your muffin tray out the freezer and use the ice cream to fill each cup almost to the top, allowing a little room to add your chocolate top. Use the remaining melted chocolate mixture to evenly cover the top of each heart, ensuring there is no ice cream visible – it should harden immediately on contact with the cold ice cream.
Return your ice creams to the freezer to set completely. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer and pop the ice creams out of their moulds. Leave for about five minutes to allow them to soften slightly, then you’re good to go.
Serve as they are or with a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce. Cheesy romantic references to melting hearts entirely optional.