There's more to summer desserts than ice cream and frozen && yogurt. Think water ices, sherbets, sorbets and granitas.
Never an ice cream fan, I was probably the only kid on my Brooklyn, N.Y., block who failed to have a Pavlovian response to the tinkle of the Good Humor bell. But when the truck selling ices cruised by, usually late on sizzling summer nights, I was the first to rush over.
The big, lumbering vehicle was stocked with bins of the creamy but milk-free confection in varied flavors. We called them Italian ices. My favorite was chocolate but lemon was a close second and heaven was a big cup of both. The cup was made of soft, pleated paper and you squeezed the ice up from the bottom. When it was all but gone, you licked the inside of the cup not to miss a drop.
Now I will admit that premium ice cream, the really good kind, is also a tongue-pleaser. But its reliance on egg yolks and heavy cream makes it a healthy-diet no-no. So I consider my long-standing preference for sugar-syrup-based water ices, sorbets, sherbets and granitas, well, avant-garde.
The preparation of these frosty treats goes back thousands of years to China, and at least to Roman times in Europe, when runners --ed to the mountains to collect snow that aristocrats ate flavored with honey, fruit juice or wine. In the Middle East of old, the privileged class spooned up sharbah, or sherbet.
The term "ices" applies to water ices, sorbets, granitas and sherbets. Definitions are fluid, but water ices are based on fruit juice, wine or pureed fruit. Sorbets contain a little egg white for a softer, smoother consistency. A few drops of liqueur may be added to intensify flavor. Granitas are flavored water (coffee and lemon are favorites in Italy) frozen without beating, and served semi-melted. A sprinkle of milk blended into the fruit base produces the more ice-creamlike sherbet.
An ice-cream machine makes the job of turning out these luscious desserts easier, but happily, it's not a necessity. Instead, half-freeze the mixture in an ice cream tray, then beat it with an electric mixer or in a food processor until it is smooth. Freeze it until just before serving and give it a last beating to smooth out the texture.
Keep a jar of sugar syrup on hand in the refrigerator and when summer fruits are dead ripe, make ices. For a jazzy presentation, serve ices in clear glass containers and decorate with fresh berries or other fruit that complements the flavor. Garnish with mint leaves or edible flowers.
CANTALOUPE AND PEACH ICES
This recipe is adapted from "Persian Cooking for a Healthy Kitchen" by Najmieh Batmanglij, just published by Mage Publishers. At a party where Ms. Batmanglij did the cooking, I found the dishes full of exotic flavors that meld the traditions of the Iranian and French Provencal kitchens, her two loves.
2 large ripe peaches, peeled
1 cantaloupe or honeydew melon, peeled
2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons rose water or orange blossom water
fresh mint leaves
Puree fruit, add sugar, lime juice and flavored water. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions or use the ice cube-tray method. Garnish with mint leaves and rose petals. Serves four.