Ice cream is a sweet treat that is easy to fall in love with, and it tastes all the more heavenly in summer, when hot days and humid nights beg for something cool on the tongue. If you churn it yourself, that’s really something to scream about. You don’t need fancy ingredients – just eggs, cream, milk and sugar and whatever flavorings and mix-ins you might have a yen for.
Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry are the favorites. What’s more unusual are vegetable ice creams.
We know – they are for the adventurous. But Pittsburgh Ice Cream Co. owner Nathan Holmes is pretty sure you’d love roasted beet ice cream, and he’s right. Extra creamy with the addition of goat cheese and yogurt, the jewel-toned dessert tastes so fresh and healthful – just the right amount of sweet balanced with the exact amount of earthy.
Vegetables as a flavor base for ice cream might seem strange, “but we’re trying to use what’s in season, and people before us have done stranger things,” says Holmes, who has been churning specialty ice creams and sorbets since 2014. He offers Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams as an example. The artisan ice-cream company based in Columbus, Ohio, lists sweet corn and fennel among its flavors.
There’s also Haagen-Dazs, which in 2014 introduced its Spoon Veg lines of vegetable ice cream in Japan with a Tomato Cherry flavor (a combination of cherry juice and tomato paste) and Carrot Orange (a blend of concentrated carrot juice, orange juice concentrate, orange pulp, and orange peel).
With local produce now arriving in piles, you might want to explore vegetable ice cream. But first:
Homemade ice cream is not a whim dessert. Both the liquid base and freezer container have to be extremely cold for the best results (chill at least four hours for the base, 24 hours for the container). It’s also key to start with the freshest ingredients.
If you’re using a custard base, be careful not to overcook it or you'll end up with scrambled eggs. On the flip side, avoid overmixing the ice cream. Fresh out of the churning step, ice cream has a Dairy Queen consistency; it needs several hours in the freezer to harden into something that scoops well but still is creamy.
Lastly, once your ice cream is spun, quickly get it out of the bowl and into a freezer-safe container to keep it from turning crunchy. Never freeze it in the container – it could end up damaging it when it sticks to the sides. Plus, you need it clean and properly chilled for the next time.
To serve, let ice cream sit on the counter for a few minutes to soften. Not only will that save you from bent spoons, but it'll be kinder on the taste buds. The colder the ice cream, the less sweet it tastes.
Sweet Corn and Thyme Ice Cream
From Root ‘n Bone in New York, via thedailymeal.com
4 ears of corn, shucked
2 cups milk
3 sprigs thyme, plus a few leaves for churning
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
9 egg yolks
Cut corn from cob and then combine the corn (including the cobs) in a pot with the milk, thyme and cream. Bring to a simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and steep for 1 to 2 hours. Remove and discard the cobs and thyme sprigs.
Blend corn and milk in a blender well until smooth. Return the corn cream to the pot and bring to a simmer again over medium heat.
Whisk sugar and yolks together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Slowly add hot milk mixture to eggs, whisking constantly. Once all of the milk has been beaten into the eggs, pour the contents of the bowl back into same saucepan and return it to medium heat; cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. (The corn and egg mixture should be slightly thicker than maple syrup).
Strain through a fine mesh strainer and chill overnight.
Freeze/churn in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturers directions. Fold in a few thyme leaves toward the end. Place in a resealable container and place in the freezer for four hours or until you’re ready to use it.
Cool Cucumber Ice Cream
From Katie Heldstab of Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches in Pittsburgh.
1 medium-size cucumber, scrubbed
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce vodka (or any other spirit that may complement the flavor)
Turn your home freezer to the coldest setting.
Slice cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds, cut in 1/2-inch slices and pat dry with paper towel. This gets rid of any additional water. Set aside.
Pour cream into large bowl and refrigerate.
Heat milk, sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Mix with a wooden spoon or spatula and heat until simmering. Simmer for 1 minute. Take off heat and cool 2 to 3 minutes while you prepare the eggs.
In a medium bowl, gently whisk egg yolks to break them up but don’t whip. Take about a cup of the hot milk mixture and gently whisk egg yolks as you slowly pour the hot milk into the yolks. This raises the temperature of the eggs so they don’t scramble when mixed with the remaining hot milk.
Pour the yolk mixture in back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Stir constantly over medium/low heat for a few minutes until the mixture thickens into a custard. Test by dragging your finger across the back of the mixing spoon through the custard. If the line you’ve made holds, it’s ready.
Remove cream from the refrigerator and set a mesh strainer on top. Pour the custard through the strainer to catch any bits of cooked egg. Mix gently to combine the cream and custard. Add vanilla and vodka or other spirit. (This will keep the ice cream from freezing too hard.)
Stir in the chopped cucumbers, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Strain cucumber out of the mix and discard. Process per your ice cream maker instructions. Scoop into a resealable shallow container, place a piece of plastic wrap on the top of the ice cream to prevent air from touching it. Place in the freezer for 6 to 12 hours.
Yield: 8 servings.
Beet Ice Cream
From Nathan Holmes of Family Farm Creameries in Western Pennsylvania.
1 or 2 young, tender beets, such as golden, red or chioggia
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces goat cheese
2 cups full-fat yogurt
Cut beets in half and place face down on a sheet pan lined with foil. Cover pan with foil and roast in a 450-degree oven until very soft, about 1 hour. Pull of the outer skin. You should have about 1 cup cooked beet.
Cool slightly, then blend beets with sugar and olive oil. (You want a very fine consistency similar to a smoothie; if it seems too watery, cook the beet puree in a saucepan to thicken it).
Whisk the goat cheese into the warm beet syrup and cool. When it reaches room temperature, add yogurt.
Chill, then churn in your ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s directions.
Yield: 6 servings.