I think I need a break. So instead of writing about what I see here in Athens, I will talk to you about ice cream. Homemade ice cream. Rich and wholesome, melty inside a glass dish, ice cream. And spicy cinnamon basil too, delicious in all manner of July-sanctioned foods.
My ice cream inspiration began when Spyros and I visited the laiki last week. We stopped at an herb stand for basil and selected a nice, hydrated-looking bunch. The farmer weighed it and—as vendors often do in Greece—gave us a gift, a free bunch of cinnamon basil.
Cinnamon basil and I have a long history. When I was about nine or ten, I decided that I wanted to grow spices, cinnamon in particular. My dad and I scoured the local hardware stores until we found a package of cinnamon basil seeds. By July I had about 25 pots of cinnamon basil plants that my parents, bless them, did not know what to do with.
My mom owned an herbal cookbook with recipes for spice-infused jams, oils, vinegars and the like. Consulting it, we stumbled on a recipe for cinnamon-basil honey which the author touted as a great topping for waffles, pancakes, and ice cream. I was sold at “ice cream” but Mom, who didn’t have much experience jarring or processing, looked doubtful. She sighed, but made the honey anyway. It was a surprise success. For two years Mom’s cinnamon-basil honey elevated our ordinary Sunday waffles and pancakes into a gastronomic indulgence fit for jazzy New York types. We lived in Pennsylvania.
Our car packed the herbaceous scent of basil and tomatoes, I thought of my parents and the honey as we drove home from the laiki. It’s curious how taste and smell can trigger thoughts of a loved one. I decided I wanted to make something special with the gifted cinnamon basil. Perhaps I could make Mom’s honey and swirl it into vanilla ice cream? But I was on a time limit and, with capital controls looming in my future, hesitant to buy jam jars. I told Spyros about my ideas.
“Why don’t you just make cinnamon basil ice cream without the honey?” he suggested. So we bought milk and cream and vanilla. At home I pulled my Kitchen Aid’s ice cream-maker attachment from its hiding place inside a cupboard and got to work measuring the milk and heating it to a simmer. I added cinnamon basil leaves to the hot mixture and let them infuse. The cooling cream formed a lovely skin.
As the cream churned in the mixer later that night, Spyros and I stole spoons of barely frozen cream. That flavor from my Mom’s cinnamon basil honey—spicy, sweet, but refreshing—was there! For dessert that evening we had scoops of ice cream with such a strong herbal flavor that it almost tasted healthy. I’m of the ice cream should be healthy. We are adding this one to our repertoire.
Cinnamon-Basil Ice Cream
*Adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s Old Time Vanilla Ice Cream and Chow.com’s Cinnamon Basil Gelato
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups 1% milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cinnamon stick
½ cup basil cinnamon leaves
Pinch of salt
- Combine the heavy cream, milk, vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a simmer with bubbles forming at the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat and add the cinnamon stick and basil. Cover the pan and let infuse for 30 minutes.
- Strain the cinnamon stick and basil leaves from the mixture and chill the Cinnamon Basil mixture in the refrigerator for at least one hour or until cold.
- Process cream according to your ice-cream maker’s directions.