Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Savory Sweet: Sorbetto di Parmigiano with Bourbon Pears

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I have, putting it mildly, an ice cream problem.

There's always a half-dozen pints in the fridge, and, on more than one night, I've been known to head back to the kitchen for multiple servings; I'm waiting for the day when my pores leak egg yolks and cream. For someone who supposedly has "no sweet tooth," my attitude towards ice cream presents a contradiction at 32 degrees F, a paradox comprised of Pistachio and Butter Pecan.

To my credit, those two above flavors are among my favorites, along with other varieties on the less-sweet side of the scale: Peanut Butter, Vanilla Bean, Rum Raisin, Green Tea. More importantly, when I break out the ice cream maker to create my own recipes, I use very little sugar; I want people to enjoy the taste of each individual element.

Recently, I've been on a kick to incorporate more savory flavors into sweet dishes; to expand the idea of what dessert should be, to investigate great ways to finish a meal and still challenge and stimulate the palate. A little sweet, a little salty, but all delicious, this is one dish that will keep your guests guessing. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think in the comments.

Sorbetto di Parmigiano with Bourbon Pears
Serves 6

2 Cups, less 2 Tablespoons, Heavy Cream
1 Cup Milk
2 Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
1/3 Cup White Granulated Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Pound of Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (or Grana, Asiago etc.)

2 Bartlett or D'Anjou (really, any ripe green varietal) pears
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Bourbon
2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons Butter

Cracked Black Pepper (optional)

[Editor's Note: While you can substitute other kinds of cheese in here, I suggest you go for the real deal and splurge on a little chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Since you're only using a quarter-pound, the admittedly expensive cheese is worth the investment. Using sub-par cheese will result in sub-par Sorbetto. Don't say I didn't warn you.]

Start by placing the two cups of cream and one cup of milk into a saucepan.

Grate your Parmigiano-Reggiano into the saucepan (as shown at the top of this post), and whisk in the half-cup of sugar.

Light your stove, keeping the flame medium-low. You'll want to continually stir this -- the cheese will begin to melt, get a little goopy, and then eventually disappear into the liquid, thickening it.

Pour the Sorbetto base into a bowl to cool off for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crack your eggs -- they'll start to come up to room temperature while the Sorbetto base cools.

Whisk the eggs and egg yolks into your cooled base, and return the mixture to your saucepan. Light your stove once more, keeping it at low heat.

Meanwhile, give your bowl a quick rinse -- we'll be returning the finished base to it, and we don't want to have little bits of raw egg mixed into it.

Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the base just begins to thicken further -- err on the side of underdone. If it starts clumping up into little cooked bits, you've gone too far.

Pour your finished base through a strainer and back into your bowl. Cover it, and place everything into the refrigerator to cool.

Once the finished Sorbetto base is completely cool (no less than two hours), pour it into an ice-cream maker, following manufacturer's directions. Be advised that this is a very thick base; you'll want to check in on the machine every once in a while to make sure that it's still mixing.

Pour your partially-frozen Sorbetto into a freezer-friendly container and store as you would any ice cream.

{Editor's Note #2: All of the above can be done days, even weeks, before you want to serve the final dish. What follows are the steps that should be undertaken roughly 30 minutes before you want to bring the final product to the table.]

Before everything else, take the container of frozen Sorbetto out of the freezer -- this is a very thick, firm ice cream, so it will need some time to become softer, supple, and toothsome.

Next, gather your pears and a cutting board.

Slice your pears into half-moons very thin, about a half-inch per piece. If you want them even thinner than that, knock yourself out.

Place your brown sugar and butter into a pan over high heat. Cook until both melt into a more liquid state.

Turn the stove's flame off. Carefully add your bourbon, and, with a separate flame source (a mechanical lighter is ideal), ignite the sauce. It will flame up quite impressively.

[Editor's Note #3: Sorry, no photographs of the impressive flame itself; it's rather difficult to light a sauce, photograph it, and retain your eyebrows all at once.]

Stir the flaming sauce until it burns out. At this point, turn the stove's flame on once again, cooking at high heat.

Stir in your remaining two tablespoons of heavy cream, reduce your heat to low, and continue to cook.

Add in your sliced pears.

[Editor's Note #4: Adding the fruit at this point, rather than before the flaming, keeps the slices both from absorbing uncooked alcohol, and from becoming overcooked. I prefer this technique when making Bananas Foster as well.]

Cook your pears for about one to two minutes, or until just soft. Be careful not to burn the caramel -- if things get too dark, or if an acrid smell begins to come from your pan, remove it from the heat immediately.

Arrange some pears on a plate, place a scoop of Sorbetto on top, spoon the caramel sauce around artfully, and dust everything with a pinch of freshly-cracked black pepper. The final product:

This really is a wonderful dish; to be honest, it's probably my favorite dessert that I've made for this blog. For those of you that have been reading the page for a while, you'll remember that you don't even need an ice-cream maker to create this -- a baking sheet and a spoon will do the job just fine.

Each of the three elements in this dish play off each other wonderfully -- the salty/sweet Sorbetto, the juicy, green sugars of the pears and the deep, slightly smoky caramel all highlight each other in turn. Every bite brings with it a different perspective, another aspect to consider. Don't be afraid of this one; it's a pleasant surprise.

We'll return next week -- be sure to stop by then.

Music: String Cheese Incident -- "Smile"

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