When I first moved to Boston, I was a very committed sight-seer. It was mid-summer, I had no job, and grad school, my reason for moving, didn’t start for nearly two months. The only reason I came up so early was that our lease began in July, and as long as I was going to be paying for an apartment, I figured I might as well go ahead and live in it. So, for the first several weeks of my Boston life, I’d wake up in the morning, go to a café around the corner and bum their internet for a while. When my roommate woke up, we’d get on the train and ride until we came to a stop that sounded interesting, then hop off and explore the area.
Even when school started, I still saw my fair share of variety; we lived in Jamaica Plain, I went to school on the edge of Chinatown, worked in Back Bay, and frequently visited Alex at his job in the financial district. But now that we’ve been here for five years, I tend to stick to my basic route and deviate from it only when necessary. And that’s a shame, because there are so many great parts of the city that I now rarely see.
Take the North End, for example. I’m sure part of the reason I think it’s so great is because I’m there so rarely (I can probably count the times I’ve visited on one hand), but then again, what’s not to love? Narrow streets, coffee shops with their windows thrown open, charming grocery stores, boatloads of wine… and of course, cannoli. I won’t even get into the whole Modern Pastry vs. Mike’s debate, because 1) it’s all been done and 2) it’s an unwinnable war. But I will acknowledge the dizzying array of flavors you have to choose from, wherever you go. You have options for the filling (plain ricotta, chocolate, pastry cream, etc) and the shell (plain, florentine), and you can have the whole shebang dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts if you like. The combinations are endless, but my all-time favorite is a plain cannoli with ricotta cream, dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in pistachios. This ice cream is an homage to that rare treat.
It all starts with a good-quality, whole milk ricotta. I used Maplebrook ricotta, from Bennington, Vermont, which is the brand I carry in my cheese case. (I carry it because a pushy customer badgered me into it, and then I realized that it really is great.) You’ll also use heavy cream and whole milk (I used fancy-pants local milk from a glass bottle– *ooohs and ahhhs reverently*). I can see you over there, thinking, “Hmmm, that sounds like a lot of fat.” And to that, I say, it’s ice cream. That’s why it’s good.
The batter is a really simple mixture of ricotta, milk, cream, and sugar, plus a little orange zest to brighten things a bit. It all gets whirled in a blender until perfectly smooth.
And then comes the part where it’s necessary for you to have an ice cream maker. I just got the Kitchen Aid mixer ice cream attachment for my birthday (thank you, Mom!!), after longing for it for quite a while. It’s a good option if you already have the mixer, and if you have a lot of freezer space; then you can just keep the bowl in the freezer full-time, and you don’t have to plan too far ahead to make a batch of ice cream.
The ice cream maker will freeze the batter until it’s the consistency of soft-serve, but not much more. That means you have to spoon it into a bowl and freeze it for a couple hours more to get a firmer texture (a piece of parchment or waxed paper pressed against the surface will keep ice crystals from forming and making the ice cream too hard). It also means that you get to enjoy a few bites of soft-serve while you transfer the ice cream to the freezer.
The ice cream on its own is a total delight: mildly cheesy, not too sweet, and with just a little perk from the orange zest. But, to take it into my-perfect-cannoli territory, I added a dusting of pistachios, and, perhaps most importantly, homemade magic shell. I feel like magic shell could be a post of its own. The nostalgia! The yumminess! The science! The totally unnatural ingredients! But I’ll just keep it short and tell you that it is ridiculously easy to make at home: just a 3:1 ratio of Nutella spread to coconut oil, gently warmed in the microwave, will do the trick.
You know how I said last week that I hadn’t been in the mood for desserts? Yeah… consider that problem remedied.
Cannoli Cream Ice Cream with Magic Shell and Pistachios
adapted from Cookies and Cream
for the ice cream
1 15-ounce container good-quality, whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Place mixture in refrigerator until completely chilled, about 1 hour. Pour the chilled batter into the bowl of an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions (it took about 15 minutes in the bowl of the Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment). Transfer the soft ice cream from the ice cream maker to a bowl with a tight-fitting lid, and apply parchment or wax paper directly to the ice cream’s surface. Place lid on bowl and chill ice cream in the freezer until firm, about 2 hours.
for the magic shell
3 Tablespoons Nutella
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
Combine Nutella and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl. Heat in the microwave for about two minutes, stirring every 15 seconds, until Nutella is melted; stir with a fork until well-combined. Allow to cool slightly.
Scoop fully chilled ice cream into small bowls. Top with magic shell, and while the shell is still liquid, sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Allow the shell to harden, then serve right away.