As you already know we went down to Ravello a few weeks ago. Great food, great views, great fun. Also great souvenirs. Not only did I pick up a hefty cedro (citron), but we also came away with a few kilos of lemons from our friend Tom’s incredibly beautiful limoneto.
I realized that I had never actually seen a limoneto up close. I’d seen many from afar, but this was the first time I was actually invited to spend a few days actually living in the middle of a lemon grove.
You see Tom’s house is located atop a steeply sloped cliff which is carefully terraced all around to allow the planting of hundreds of lemon trees. The structure is not only ingenious, but incredibly beautiful. Strong stone walls provide not only support for the terraces above, but absorb and reflect heat to keep the grove warm. The trees themselves, many over 50 years old, are pruned and trained to form a sort of lemony canopy that spreads up and over wooden trellises that cover the entire terrain.
Walking beneath the branches made me almost giddy. Huge, bright yellow lemons hanging in bunches, nestled beneath shiny green leaves, with bits of bright blue sky peaking through.
We’re a big time, lemon-eating family and a few pounds of lemons are on my weekly shopping list. I use the juice in almost every thing I cook, and lemon zest goes into pastas, cakes, cocktails and even pizza toppings. So I was not worried in the least about using up the 4 kilos of lemons we received as a departing gift from Tom.
But I did know I wanted to make something a little special. Since summer had hit, I decided it was time to haul my gelato maker out of its winter hiding place. My 20 year old Gaggia is still going strong and was by far my favorite wedding gift (thank you Lawrence, Marietta and Martha!)
So lemon gelato for sure. But since I was having company over, I wanted give it a elegant kind of twist. I’ve been making a lot of lemon basil gimlets recently and thought basil might be a neat addition. But since I didn’t have huge quantities of basil on my terrace garden (it’s still early in the season) I decided to snip off a few branches of thyme instead.
As for all things gelato, I turned to David Lebovitz, and his Perfect Scoop. I started out with his Lemon Sorbet recipe, which is a classic, then tweaked it a bit to work in the thyme. The result was a perfect ending to dinner on the terrace on a hot summer night. The gelato was tart and lemony, but the thyme was strong, almost musty, which rounded out the sourness of the sorbet to fill our mouths with a cool and welcome greenness.
Lemon Thyme Sorbet
(adapted from David Lebovitz A Perfect Scoop)
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
Pour the water into a small pan and add the sugar. Add the thyme sprigs as well as the lemon zest. ( I like to peel off the lemon zest with a potato peeler, in long strips, so that I can remove it later. I’m not a huge fan of eating raw zest, so this makes sure I get it all out later)
Stir over low heat, just until the sugar is melted. Turn heat off and let cool. Place the sugar syrup into the refrigerator to cool completely, about 2 hours or longer.
Place lemon juice in the refrigerator to cool too.
When ready to make the gelato turn on your gelato maker to cool the chamber.
Take syrup out of fridge and remove peel and thyme. Add to juice and stir well. Add liquid to ice cream maker and process until done.
Remember the gelato will be a bit soft when done. Take it out of machine and place it in freezer for an hour or so to firm up before serving.