Sometimes it feels like I’m waiting alllll summer for my basil to grow into a bush, and suddenly at the end of the season, boom. My Thai basil explodes overnight and I find myself blending and freezing several pints of pesto to save for the winter months.
But fresh basil is a favorite of mine in the kitchen, topping bowls of arrabiata-sauced pasta and creamy tomato soup, cut into a chiffonade (I love that word) for stews or stacked whole on top of Caprese salads. But beyond those traditional uses for basil, I particularly like it in unconventional recipes, like my baked blueberry-basil donuts or this homemade Thai basil ice cream.
Basil is probably not the first (or tenth, or even thirty-second) flavor you think of when you think ice cream, but it’s surprisingly pleasant and sweet for being a stronger and somewhat more savory herb. Thai basil is “warmer” than the sweet Italian varieties, with hints of cinnamon, licorice, and mint. It doesn’t taste like you’re stuffing basil leaves into your mouth; in fact, the flavor lends itself well to a frozen treat like ice cream, which keeps it light and refreshing.
And on a hot summer day like today, light and refreshing is the call!
Thai Basil Ice Cream
Makes 1 1/2 quarts
1 cup packed fresh basil
2 cups whole milk, divided
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
Zest of 2 lemons
The night before, put your ice cream freezer bowl in the freezer.
The day of, add the basil and 1 cup of the milk to a blender and blend until smooth. Don’t worry if it looks a bit murky at this point; basil tends to bruise easily and the color will perk up again once you make the custard. (I personally like having little flecks of basil in my ice cream, but you can strain them at this stage if you prefer.)
Transfer the basil milk to a medium saucepan and combine with the remaining 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, sugar, and salt. (Keep the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream in the fridge until ready to use.)
Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until it starts to bubble around the edges, but do not let it boil. Once it starts bubbling, reduce the heat to low and infuse the basil for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the cold heavy cream to a large bowl. Pour in the warm milk mixture and stir to combine.
In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly add the milk mixture in a slow and steady stream (so as to avoid cooking the yolks) and whisk it all together. You’ve just made custard!
Pour the custard back into the saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the custard to a large bowl and stir in the lemon zest. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.
Once the custard is cold, transfer it to your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream should be nice and creamy (looking a little like soft serve) in 15 to 20 minutes.
It’s ready to eat as is, but I like homemade ice cream to have a firmer texture, so I pop it back in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.