Breaks are important.
Like in a song, for instance. Or a speech. More often than not, the pauses have more impact than the actual music or words. The same is true for life. Taking breaks is major.
That’s exactly what I did this weekend. I took a nice, big break, and I hope you did, too. There isn’t a time more appropriate for breaking than a holiday dedicated to our very labor. I did a whole lot of nothing and kept my work related tasks to a bare minimum (’cause let’s be real, checking out completely, as much as I wanted to, just isn’t possible these days).
However, the weekend didn’t start out that way. The weather reports all called for a big bad storm to come and blow our house down, so we spent the better part of Friday and Saturday making preparations. But then, Sunday came along with abundant – albeit windy – sunshine. To all of our surprise, hurricane Hermine went east and spared us the destruction from what was predicted to be Sandy-level flooding. The waves were clean and firing, the island was empty, and although that was bad for local businesses, it was everything for the local soul.
This is the time of year when I usually start to conduct an audit of my life. I have a birthday on the horizon and it always gets me feeling some type of way. What did I do this year? What could I have done differently? What did I learn? As I live my last few days as a 31-year-old and notice the impending seasonal changes in the air, I feel an overwhelming need for reflection. Perhaps you’re reflecting, too?
This time last year was filled with excitement and anticipation as we prepared to leave for Italy. It was my first ever trip to Europe, and easily the biggest highlight of my year. We ate gelato in every city we visited, and over our two-week vacation, Chaser and I eventually picked our favorite flavors. Not every gelateria carried ricotta with figs, but when they did, I had to order it. Sometimes it was mascarpone with figs – also good – but ricotta was always better. Every gelateria had pistachio, but I only ordered it when it was more brownish than bright green, a telltale sign it’s not homemade and full of artificial flavor and coloring. One scoop of each in a cup or cone and I was a very happy Coley.
Upon our return home, I was eager to jump into the kitchen and make gelato, but by the end of September, fall had already set in. The weather was cool, the leaves were starting to change, and ice cream was just not on my agenda. I wanted warm apple crisps, roasted vegetables, and soups. But this summer, I couldn’t wait for the fresh figs to find their way to the market so I could try my hand at my favorite gelato flavors. Only instead of making two separate batches, I wanted to combine them all into one. And that’s exactly what I did.
Creamy ricotta gelato with sweet, syrupy roasted figs and smooth, nutty pistachio butter swirled throughout. What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream? There isn’t exactly a hard definition of ingredients or technique, really. I find gelato to be a bit denser, more intensely flavored, and more sticky. But really, they’re basically both the same creamy frozen treats, each with their own slew of variations, just in different languages, so don’t worry about it too much. You could call this ice cream if you wanted, I suppose, but with ingredients and inspiration this Italian, it deserves to be called gelato.
After a hot, humid and absurdly busy summer, I cannot even tell you how lovely the weekend was with it’s cool, fall-like weather and virtually empty agenda. It was a much-needed break, and as a result, I gained a lot of clarity and feel ready to take on the week… A week where the weather is supposed to climb back into the 90’s, and my schedule is packed to the gills with both work and recreation alike.
Even though we can’t spend these next few weeks in Italy, like we did last year, at least we can spend it here, at home, on this tiny little island, with a gigantic scoop of my favorite Italian gelato.
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- 10 ounces fresh figs, quartered
- 2 tablespoons honey
- pinch of salt
- water, as needed
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4-1/2 cup milk, plus more as needed
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta
- 1 cup milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment (to prevent sticking and for easier clean-up), then place the figs, honey and salt on top. Mix together with your hands, then spread them out into an even layer. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the figs are caramelized and bubbling. Remove from the oven, and while still hot, use a fork to mash the figs into little bits. Use some water, as needed, to loosen the mixture if the honey has over-caramelized in some spots. You want it to be quite syrupy, as it will thicken as it cools. Transfer to a bowl, then set aside and let cool. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Place the pistachios and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulverize on high until sandy. Add 1/4 cup of milk and continue processing until it forms a smooth paste. Add more milk, as needed, until the mixture is pourable, but still thick, like the consistency of pancake batter. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Line a strainer with a few paper towels or cheese cloth and place over a bowl. Add the ricotta and allow it to drain for about 1 hour.
- Combine the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk until the sugar dissolves. Add the egg yolks to a bowl and whisk to break them up. Slowly pour the milk mixture over the egg yolks while continuously whisking. Pour the mixture back in the saucepan, turn the heat to low, and use a rubber spatula to stir until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour through a strainer to catch any lumps, then whisk in the ricotta and heavy cream. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, overnight is best.
- Pour the ice cream mixture into an ice cream maker and process via manufacturers instructions. When the ice cream has finished churning, transfer half to a container, then dot half of the fig and pistachio mixtures over top. Use a butter knife to gently swirl in the fig and pistachio. Repeat with the remaining ice cream, fig, and pistachio. Immediately transfer to the freezer and allow it to firm up and freeze for several hours, overnight is best.
- Scoop and enjoy!