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’?
LEMONGRASS AND LEMON THYME ICE-CREAM WITH TUILE BISCUITS AND MANGO MILKSHAKE — OR SIX INGREDIENTS IN SEARCH OF A RECIPE
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.