Six Ingredients In Search Of A Recipe

In the league table of cel­eb­rated plays that should never be per­formed on stage, Shakespeare’s grue­some Titus Andronicus has to come top. But I’ve always thought Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Char­ac­ters in Search of an Author may be up there too. His open­ing night audi­ence in Rome yelled ‘man­icomio’ or ‘mad­house’ through­out the per­form­ance and the humi­li­ated Pir­an­dello had to slip out of a side door.

The play’s eccent­ric premise is this: a rehearsal is tak­ing place on stage when six half-written char­ac­ters barge into the theatre demand­ing to be allowed to act out their drama. The bewildered Dir­ector gives in and the bizarre event con­cludes with a drown­ing and a sui­cide. This week­end I’m see­ing it on stage for the very first time, so I’ll let you know if it’s per­form­able or not.

I love a good post­mod­ern exper­i­ment, in food as well as lit­er­at­ure. So when I had a whim to make lem­on­grass and lemon thyme ice-cream, it struck me that this might be my Pir­an­dello moment. Great concept, mad­house in real­ity? Or daft idea, sub­lime res­ult? Would my six ice-cream ingredi­ents make for the per­fect per­form­ance or would I be forced out of the kit­chen, pur­sued by mem­bers of my fam­ily wav­ing rolling pins and shout­ing ‘man­icomio maniac’?


For the ice-cream

  • 1 cup semi skimmed milk
  • 2 cups double cream
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks (you can use the whites for the biscuits)
  • Three hand­fuls of fresh lemon thyme, includ­ing the soft stalks
  • 2 bulbs of fresh lem­on­grass, bruised with a rolling pin and sliced finely

For the biscuits

  • 2 egg whites
  • 60g softened unsalted but­ter (I like Les­cure but­ter best)
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of a lemon

For the mango milkshake

  • Slightly over­ripe Alphonso man­goes or 1 tin Alphonso mango pulp. The exquis­ite, per­fumed fruit are in sea­son in April, but if you can’t find any, the tinned pulp is excep­tion­ally good
  • Equal quant­it­ies of ice-cold semi skimmed milk

To make the ice-cream, com­bine the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, the thyme and the lem­on­grass. Warm it through until hot, but not boil­ing. Take off the heat, cover and allow the fla­vours to infuse for around an hour and a half.

Once the cream has infused, whisk the egg yolks. Still whisk­ing, pour a little of the warm cream mix­ture into the bowl. Add a little more, whisk­ing all the while, and then pour the tempered eggs back into the pan con­tain­ing the rest of the cream mix.

Put the pan back on a gentle to medium heat and con­tinue to stir until the mix­ture becomes custard-like and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the remain­ing cup of cream and pour the whole lot into a cold bowl. Once cooled com­pletely, strain the mix­ture into your ice-cream maker and churn it.

To make the bis­cuits, whisk the egg whites very lightly and com­bine with the other ingredi­ents. Pour a little of the bat­ter into well-buttered fairy cake tins or lar­ger tart­let tins if you prefer. I used tart­let tins approx­im­ately 12 cm in dia­meter which pro­duced 9 bis­cuits. Bake at 200 degrees C for around 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and ease the bis­cuits gently out of the tins with a plastic knife.

To make the mango milk­shake, com­bine equal quant­it­ies of mango puree and ice-cold milk. If you feel that an authen­tic milk­shake needs a few bubbles, froth it with a milk frother.

After I laid on my first night per­form­ance of Six Ingredi­ents in Search of a Recipe, my son — who’s no pushover — announced that it’s now his num­ber one favour­ite ice-cream. And this from a teen­ager who would hap­pily eat my chocol­ate and pea­nut but­ter ice-cream seven days a week. The fla­vour of the ice-cream is per­fumed and creamy, with a subtle and del­ic­ate prom­ise of lemon. The mango is the per­fect coun­ter­bal­ance and the bis­cuit provides a much needed ele­ment of crunch.

Man­icomio or para­dise? Try it and let me know.

The sixth sense and an extra dimension…

I was given the per­fect going-home present last night, after sup­per with friends; two plump, mottled, ever so slightly mis­shapen and exquis­itely per­fumed quinces. They ful­filled everything you could wish for in a gift: taste, touch, scent and rar­ity, with a sprink­ling of eccentricity.

My visit to Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don to see Ai Weiwei’s new Sun­flower Seeds exhibit was any­thing but ful­filling. Now that we’ve been banned from walk­ing, ankle-deep, through the one hun­dred mil­lion hand-painted por­cel­ain sun­flower seeds, the work has been stripped of a dimen­sion. The snootier art crit­ics claim the work is the same whether we walk through it or not. But that’s just wrong. Sun­flower Seeds was sup­posed to be a work to exper­i­ence not just with the eyes, but with our ears, our hands and our feet. Rop­ing it off with the kind of pro­saic black bar­rier you would find at an air­port has stripped it of its demo­cratic power — and its glory too, for that matter.

I stomped grump­ily away from Sun­flower Seeds to join the line for the new Gauguin exhib­i­tion. That was pos­sibly even worse as an artistic exper­i­ence. Duck­ing and dodging around the crowds, I saw more shoulders, elbows and necks than I saw paintings.

My dis­ap­point­ing day got me think­ing about what hap­pens when our senses are cheated. Bit­ing into a taste­less, scar­let tomato. Smelling a bunch of hot­house flowers devoid of scent. Sli­cing a downy, blush­ing peach and find­ing it has the tex­ture of moss. And even when all five senses of see­ing, hear­ing, touch­ing, tast­ing and smelling are ful­filled, there’s still a little some­thing miss­ing. Shouldn’t we add the sense of mov­ing to the list? Trail­ing through the sea-shore with the salt water froth­ing at our ankles; pick­ing black­ber­ries while zig-zagging along a shaded lane with thorns snag­ging at our sleeves; eat­ing a per­fect apple on a climb up one of Dorset’s highest hills. Or fol­low­ing the curve of the hedgerow while hunt­ing for sloes to add to gin.

The slightly tricky thing about sloe gin is when to drink it and what to drink it with. Lunch time? Not really. In the even­ing, before din­ner? Not sure about that. And then it struck me. It needs that extra dimen­sion. Just as the Itali­ans drink sweet Vin Santo while eat­ing bis­cotti, why not pair sloe gin with spiced ginger bis­cuits? Ginger goes per­fectly with the plummy-ness of sloes, and if you invite a friend to share your feast and you pick the sloes your­self you will have ful­filled all six senses by the time you’ve fin­ished. Sight, sound, touch, taste, scent and move­ment. Bet­ter than Tate Mod­ern can man­age as it turns out.

Spiced Ginger Biscuits

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees C

80 g but­ter

80g light brown caster sugar

2 desert spoons black treacle or molasses

250g plain flour

Half tea­spoon bicar­bon­ate of soda

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground cinnamon

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground ginger

1 egg yolk

2 or 3 table­spoons milk

Icing sugar to dust

This is a vari­ation on Nigel Slater’s ginger bis­cuits, but it’s slightly more suited to sloe gin. Beat the but­ter and sugar together until it is light and well mixed. Add the treacle, fol­lowed by all the other ingredi­ents apart from the milk. Add the milk gradu­ally until the con­sist­ency is per­fect for rolling but not too soft. Cut into shapes and bake in the oven for ten minutes. Sprinkle the bis­cuits with icing sugar and pour the sloe gin.