Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kitchen Olympics
What’s cooking? Watermelon Sorbet with Wine-Basil Gelée

Tomato Gymnastics

I was in Texas a week ago, and thanks to an excellent sprinkler system, my garden has taken on Olympic qualities in spite of the toasty temperatures and my absence. Admittedly, what I have planted there is mostly basil and tomatoes and green beans, all of which you have to work pretty hard to kill.

My husband joined me for part of the time, then decamped back to New Jersey where the golfing can take place in more reasonable temperatures. Which left me alone with the beans and tomatoes and basil. And no one around at night to tell me (a) that I should probably go to bed, or (b) that if I insist on staying up, I can’t be banging around in the kitchen. You see where this is headed, don’t you?

Ready for a basil marathon
So there I was, around 10 o’clock at night, which is when the kitchen crazies often strike, and it was the night before I was heading back to New Jersey, and I still had this ridiculous crop of basil outside. Never mind that I couldn’t see it in the dark – I knew it was there. And the opening ceremony of the Olympics was on and I had missed the very beginning but NBC was re-running the whole thing! All these italics are there to give you an idea of the running and jumping going on in my brain.

In the Austin heat (88º at 10 p.m.), you really do have to focus on inside activities during July/August, so I’d already been cooking up a storm. I made the Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto for a second time, and the Burrata with Shredded Sugar Snap Pea and Crispy Shiitake Salad. I mixed basil pesto with part of my crop, served the traditional way over pasta, then needed to make room in the freezer for the leftover sauce, so I thawed some chicken and made chicken soup with the deep green, meaty collards I’d found at Whole Foods. And had to find room to freeze that, because who eats hot chicken soup in the summer? Ah, and I produced cold zucchini soup to be a pick-me-up during the day. I don’t know what got into me.

That was before Saturday. I was still in a foodie frenzy, and I could see that the basil would go to seed before I got back again; I was desperate to harvest what I could. I’d already puréed it in the pesto. I’d shredded it in a salad of Jersey peaches I’d carried South on the plane, with tomatoes from the garden and some oil and balsamic vinegar. Then as I cruised the web for more alternatives, I found two totally new (to me) concepts: a basil-lime sorbet, and a wine-basil gelée that’s served with watermelon sorbet.

It was about 3 a.m. when the Olympics opening ceremony and I finished, but I didn’t regret the lost sleep. The basil-lime sorbet was easy and fun, with an intense flavor of both the basil and the lime – so intense, in fact, that it never really solidified in spite of several hours in the freezer. So I’m going to play with that and get back to you with a formulation that works a little better. But the gelée/watermelon sorbet combo gets a gold medal in any field.

On their own, the watermelon sorbet is sweet and refreshing, and the wine-basil gelée is, um, very basily – but in a good way. Served together, however, the effect is to soften both flavors into a subtle mix of melon and the peppery, grassy notes of the basil. I think it helped that the wine I used was a citrusy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which helped pull the lemon flavor into the mix. The combination becomes barely sweet but most alluring. I dished out enough for this photo and then inhaled the entire serving.

Unless you’re much more organized than I am – and many of you will be – it’ll take about an hour of actual work to produce each of the two elements. Both are amazingly easy, but you have to pay attention to what you’re doing with the gelée, and seeding the watermelon is, of course, a pain in the butt. But the final product is terribly elegant and unusual, and tastes really good.

Watermelon Sorbet with Wine-Basil Gelée, adapted from Gourmet, July 2004

For the sorbet:
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
5 cups seeded watermelon, in chunks
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)

 For the gelée:
¼ cup packed fresh basil leaves
1½  cups dry white wine
½ cup sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 envelope (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)

Special equipment: an ice cream maker

Make the sorbet:
1. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the sugar, water and zest to a boil, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat down slightly and simmer 2 minutes.

2. Combine the watermelon, lemon juice, and syrup in a blender, and purée until very smooth, about 3 minutes.

3. Process in an ice cream maker, and freeze in an airtight container for several hours (until firm) before serving.

Make the gelée:
1. Blanch the basil: Fill a medium-sized saucepan about half full of water, bring to a boil, and add the basil leaves for 5 seconds. (That’s right – 5 seconds.) While you’re waiting for the water to boil, prepare a medium-sized bowl with ice and water. When the blanching 5 seconds are up, transfer the basil leaves to the ice water bath for 20-30 seconds – just enough to stop the cooking, then wrap the leaves in a paper towel and squeeze dry.

2. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the wine, sugar, lemon zest, and the half-cup of water to a boil, stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat down slightly and simmer 2 minutes.

3. While the wine syrup mixture is simmering, pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of water into a medium-sized bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over it.

4. Line a sieve with a damp paper towel, and pour ½ cup of the wine syrup through it into the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin dissolves. Hang onto the paper towel-lined sieve, as you’ll use it again.

5. Combine the basil, the lemon juice, and the remainder of the wine syrup in a blender, and  purée until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Using the paper-lined sieve, strain the solids from the purée into the gelatin mixture and stir. [The Kitchen Goddess finds it helpful to take a spoon and lightly scrape the purée against the paper towel so as to move around the solids in the straining process. You want to get as much of the liquid into the gelatin as possible.]

6. Refrigerate the gelée (uncovered), stirring occasionally until it gets cold, then allow the mixture to set (about 2 hours).

To serve:
Break up the gelée with a whisk, and spoon 2-3 tablespoons into a glass or dessert bowl as a bed for the sorbet. Garnish with a basil leaf or a thin ribbon of lemon zest.

1 comment:

  1. This one's worthy of a gold medal. (Cue the National Anthem)