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’?

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.

Mango glasses, lime ice cream and chocolate truffles

Psychologists will have you believe that the quickest way to evoke the past is to play the music you listened to between the ages of fourteen and twenty, otherwise known as ‘music of your life’. The Rolling Stones, Robert Palmer, Bruce Springsteen – possibly Engelbert Humperdinck if that was your thing – will all evoke memories of what you were doing at a precise moment in your teens. But psychologists are missing a trick. They should be feeding us the boiled sweets of our teenage years. ‘Confectionery of your life’ is made up of the sherbet lemons after football practice, tri-coloured lollipops called ‘traffic lights’ sucked at the bus stop, kitsch pink candy shrimps in party bags, pear drops on a wintry Sunday morning and, best of all, the glory known as the chocolate lime.

It was in memory of the lividly green and slightly powdery chocolate lime that I whipped up this pudding. It’s infinitely healthier than its boiled sweet cousin, although it has to be said that it’s a lot more trouble to prepare. But close your eyes, think of getting ready for that first teenage disco with a chocolate lime in one cheek and high expectations in your heart. And then smile smugly to think that unlike the enamel-eroding boiled sweet, this pudding is good for you.

Frozen Mango Glasses and Lime Ice-Cream, With Bitter Chocolate Truffles on the Side

Serves 4

For the glasses

400g ripe alphonso mangos

For the ice cream

3 limes – the juice of three of them and the zest of two

Half cup vanilla sugar

2 cups double cream

For the truffles

Half cup double cream

3 tablespoons golden syrup

90g dark chocolate

90g milk chocolate

Quarter cup milled flaxseed, cocoa and berries, plus more for rolling

These quantities make too much by far, but the slightly nutty truffle mixture is a delicious filling for a cake

Sprigs of mint to decorate

Puree the mangoes in a blender and pour into cup-making moulds for at least 6 hours. I bought these moulds in a kitchen supply shop and although they’re rather daft, sometimes a flashy trick is what you’re after.

Make the ice cream by warming the lime juice and stirring in the sugar. Stir until dissolved and add the fine zest and the cream. Cool in the fridge and then tip into your ice cream maker and follow the instructions. Again, it makes too much for this particular recipe but it keeps well.

The truffles are easy to make, although truculent and uncooperative on a hot day. Add the cream and golden syrup to a pan and heat until the mixture starts to bubble gently. Melt the chocolate into the mixture and once it’s smooth, add the flaxseed and cocoa. Freeze in a bowl for a couple of hours and then scoop out balls of the mixture with a teaspoon and roll them in more flaxseed. Return the truffles to the freezer while you wrestle with the mango glasses.

Turn the glasses out of their moulds, fill with lime ice cream and arrange the truffles on the side. Decorate with sprigs of mint. I poked a lovage straw in to suck up the mango as it melted, but I’m rather obsessed with lovage at the moment, so you don’t need to follow my lead on this one.