At lunch last August at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice, we were served cucumber sorbet as a palate-refresher between courses. A lightbulb flashed on in my head: finally! A great way to use up the end of my summer cucumber glut. The recipe at that smart hotel was more complicated than mine; I prefer my simplicity.
Cucumbers – 3 medium
Lemon – juice of half
Sugar – 5 tbsp
Mint – sprig
I have written ‘three medium’ cucumbers, but of course that means very little given that cucumbers are different shapes and sizes (except those odd supermarket ones in the UK squeezed quite inexplicably into skin-tight plastic packaging and all looking identical.) My cucumbers tend to be shorter and chubbier than the shop-bought variety, with more flesh and less central seed channel. The idea, however, is to come out with 650 ml of cucumber pulp once the things have been processed.
Peel the cucumbers, slice them lengthways and remove any seeds. Then chop them into a blender goblet and blitz them as hard as you can until they are a beautiful green pulp. You can experiment with textures: I rather like a bit of cucumber chewiness but others in my family (the ones who can’t stand cucumber as a salad ingredient, but rather like it in this form) prefer it as un-cucumbery as possible.
In a small saucepan heat up 200 ml water along with the finely chopped mint, the sugar and the lemon juice. Five tablespoons of sugar will make a sorbet which is sweet but not hugely so. Add more (or less) depending on how sweet (or otherwise) a tooth you have. I also add a pinch of salt into this mix: as I add salt almost nowhere when I cook, you’ll appreciate just how important I think this is here. Somehow the cucumber (which I eat quite happily without salt in salads) tastes just slightly bland in sorbet form, I find, without the smallest touch of something savoury.
Stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar, then let it bubble gently for ten minutes or so to allow the mint flavour to seep out. Then pour it all through a sieve into the cucumber and mix everything around well.
If, like me, you have an ice cream maker of the kind that sits in the freezer ready to be taken out and have its beater accessory attached, it’s always important to allow your sorbet mix to cool before pouring it in. With cucumber, this rule applies even more than usual. I don’t know whether it’s the thick consistency of the pulped vegetable but if the mixture isn’t really cold, you risk finding that the ice in your ice cream maker melts before the sorbet sets properly. So as soon as the cucumber mixture is cool enough, put it in the fridge and leave it there until it’s properly cold, then put it into the ice cream maker as usual. (To make it without mechanical help, follow the instructions here.)
The finished sorbet will be a marvellously cool, pale green. Try serving it with a sauce made of blitzed and sieved raspberries and/or strawberries: the colour contrast is spectacular.
©Anne Hanley, 2014