There’s a whole new generation of excellent, thoughtful gelatai (ice cream makers) in Italy, who produce all-natural-ingredient ice cream which is quite on another level. Occasionally, however, they let themselves down, in my opinion, by letting their flavours slip over the thin line that divides innovation and gimmick. One gelato genius who rarely gets it wrong is Claudio Torcé.
Whenever I find myself on viale Aventino – not too distant from our Roman apartment – I nip into one of his outlets (at number 59) for what is, for me, his most extraordinary flavour: peanut. Far from being a trying-too-hard taste sensation, it makes you wonder: why is this not in the traditional canon of Italian ice cream flavours?
Of course here in Umbria, such exquisite temptation seems light years away. But while making no claims to reaching Torcé’s heights, I think my own substitute is pretty tasty too.
Salted roast peanuts – 200 g
Whipping or single cream – 100 ml
Sugar – 5 tbs
Egg yolks – 3
Milk – about 350 ml
Put the peanuts in a tall measuring jug into which you can plunge a stick blender without disastrous consequences. Pour about half the cream over them, and begin blitzing. Gradually pour in the rest of the cream, turning the whole mixture into a smooth paste. Now add the sugar and blend this into the paste too. If you prefer a crunchier texture, keep a tablespoon or so of the peanuts back, whizz or chop them a little separately, and set them aside to stir them into the mix right at the end.
Check the volume of paste: it should be about 400 ml. Put sufficient milk into a small saucepan to bring this up to a total volume of 750-800 ml (depending on how much your ice cream maker can cope with) and bring it almost to the boil, then turn off the heat. While the milk is heating, beat the egg yolks very well with a fork. Whip the yolks into the almost-boiling milk, and put it back over a very low heat, stirring constantly.
What you’re doing here is making custard, and making custard in this way is almost always a disaster, so brace yourself. Rather than turning into a wonderfully smooth sauce, you’re almost certainly going to find you have a horrible curdled mess in your saucepan. Keep your stick blender to hand, because you can use that to beat it back into the shape it should be. The end result doesn’t have to be very thick: just comfortingly creamy.
When it reaches the desired consistency, pour your custard (whizzing it again if you need to to get rid of curdles) into the peanut paste, and mix the whole thing together briefly with the stick blender. (Once it’s uniform, this is the moment to add the larger bits of peanut, if you’ve opted for that.)
Now you’ll need to bring the temperature of the mix right down. Plunge the jug into a bowl of cold water; a metal spoon stuck in the jug will help bring the temperature down. When it’s cool, give it a another half hour or so in the fridge to make sure your ice cream maker can cope with it, then pour it into the machine.
(If you don’t have an ice cream maker – and you should – there are instructions here for making it by hand.)
©Anne Hanley, 2013