The ice cream project: rice ice cream
Rice ice cream, more than one hundred years old, is Italian. Gelato di riso is still served in gelato parlors in Italy and perhaps elsewhere, though none I have been to anytime lately. I have had in mind to make this ever since the triumph of oatmeal ice cream many months ago. It has only taken me until now to do it because the cold weather killed my ice cream drive. Now that spring is back, so is the project.
The grains above are carnaroli, one of three great Italian rices. (The others are arborio and vialone nano, the latter still untried by me but the favorite of many an Italian peasant, says the internet.) All are good for making risotto, a dish that calls on rice to give up some of its starch to become, in effect, sauce. I wanted to use a risotto rice for this ice cream so that it would lend some starchy thickness to the custard base. I also happened to have carnaroli rice in the pantry, and if I had had arborio I would have used it instead.
Liddell and Weir caution against adding too many additional flavors to a rice ice cream. 19th century recipes that they describe contain herbs, spices and fruit. Better, say L&W, to let the flavor of rice shine through. This sounded like a plan.
The procedure here is not much different from making French-style vanilla. The first step is to cook the rice in sweetened dairy. Because I don't think it's possible for ice cream to be too rich, I resisted the Italian impulse to use milk in place of cream. I simmered the rice, half a cup, in three cups of half and half to which I added nine ounces of white sugar and the seeds scraped out of a Madagascar vanilla bean. I also added the deseeded pods. (Anyone think I should splurge on Tahitian or Mexican beans for making ice cream? The comments are yours.)
I simmered this mixture over the lowest possible heat for about an hour. Most rice ice cream recipes call for this step to be done in the microwave or over a double boiler. I didn't take that precaution. Meanwhile I whipped six egg yolks until pale. When the rice seemed just about cooked, still a touch chalky in the center, I tempered in the eggs and cooked to 170, which took only a second. Then I added a cup of heavy cream, fished out the vanilla pods, and put it in the fridge to chill. I cannot say why it took the rice so long to cook but it didn't bother me particularly and I'm not really dying to know the answer.
It was very thick when chilled and only needed to churn for five minutes. I really should experiment with still freezing, i.e., putting the custard mixture in the freezer without freezing in the ice cream machine. I don't know that churning for five minutes really introduces enough air to make much of a difference in texture. (Some still freezing techniques involve mixing the custard after an hour or two in a food processor or standing mixer, which seems like a needless hassle if you have an ice cream machine.)
It should be obvious that this ice cream would be good without the rice. Perhaps it would be better without it. But the rice, which is crunchy (it's both al dente and frozen), does have its own subtle and pleasant flavor. When you eat it, first the ice cream melts in your mouth, then the vanilla custard part goes down your throat, and then you are left with cold kernels of sweet, firm carnaroli rice against the tip of your tongue. This sensation is more than worth the small trouble it takes to whip the stuff up.
My other ice creams: