For the last few weeks I have been repeating the words semi-freddo in my head and aloud.
There is a sort of sing-song satisfaction about the phrase, especially the drum of the double ‘d’ that is so characteristically Italian. (I also seem to be incapable of saying it without pinching my forefinger and thumb together in a mock generic Italian gesture).
The word freddo (cold) is wonderfully onomatopoeic, a shudder of a word, a verbal shiver. The heavy ‘d’ especially accentuated in a Sardinian accent, in a way that always used to make me smile when one of my youngest students, Marta, said it.
Che fredddddddo she would squeak in her six-year-old voice, the heavy thud and rolling drill of the d sounding so incongruous coming out of her tiny mouth.
It sounds cold. It’s a phrase I hear frequently as we are often – perhaps surprisingly – cold. Winters in Oristano feel especially cold because of the high humidity, meaning that the cold really get into your bones. As the houses are designed for hot summers (single-glazed windows, tiled floors, few soft furnishings) the cold is somehow colder.
But right now it is 40 degrees in Sardinia (so they tell me), and the freddo feels very far away. So to make a semi-freddo, a ‘half-cold’, a wonderfully simple, forgotten-about pudding which means you can have all the joy of ice cream without an ice cream churner.
A semi-freddo is not really an ice cream, more of a frozen mousse, light and ethereal and fairy-like, with a softer, less-frozen texture than ice cream, hence its ‘semi’ name. It is beautifully light thanks to the air incorporated by whipping both the cream and egg whites.
This recipe is based on one my grandmother used to make, and she set it simply in an ice cream tub and served it in scoops, but it works very well in traditional style set in a loaf tin and served in neat slices.
I served it with some sweet English strawberries marinated in Elderflower cordial, and scattered some fresh elderflowers over it. Another happy meeting of England and Italy.
You can use the full quantity of double cream (225ml) if you don’t want to include mascarpone and it will work perfectly, but I love the cheesy, velvety depth of mascarpone here.
4 eggs, separated
100ml lemon juice (juice of 2-3 lemons)
Zest of 2 lemons
Pinch of salt
Mix the egg yolks with the sugar, finely grated zest and juice. Place in a glass/metal bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
The mixture will cook out and thicken slightly, to about the consistency of single cream. This will take about 10 minutes; run your finger along the back of the wooden spoon to see if a trail remains, then the mixture is ready. Remove from the heat, strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and allow to cool.
Whip the cream to very soft, just-peaks, then in a separate bowl, quickly beat the mascarpone until smooth, then fold it into the cream gently. If the mixture becomes too thick and curdled-looking during mixing, let it down with a splash of milk until it is smooth and creamy again.
Now whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks.
Fold the cream into the lemon curd mixture, then fold in the egg whites, starting with one spoonful to lighten the mixture, then fold in the rest.
Decant into your chosen container and cover. Place in the freezer and allow to set for at least 4 hours. Remove from the freezer at least 10 minutes before serving. Slice or scoop, and serve with the strawberries below:
For the Strawberries
200g or so of good strawberries, halved
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 tbsp sugar
3-4 tbsp elder flower cordial
Elderflowers to garnish
Marinate the strawberries in the lemon, sugar and cordial until they release their pink juices (at least for 10 minutes or so). Serve with the semi-freddo and scatter with some fresh elderflowers.