Monday, 26 February 2018

Strawberry Thyme Semifreddo

It started two years ago. On a hot, sunny day, I happened to notice a little bird sitting atop a water tap, on the side of the building. The tap was shut and it wasn't as if any water was dripping from it and yet this birdie has its beak inside the tap, trying to access whatever little moisture it could get to. It made for stark imagery. Man and his unempathetic concrete jungle had not only taken away their natural habitat by cutting down most of the trees but hadn't even left them any watering holes to survive. For someone who doesn't deal too well with Summer's excruciating heat, I took it awfully personally. 

The next morning, I stopped at the potter's and picked up a terracotta bowl that was filled with water and placed outside the kitchen. I know a lot of people do it but it was a first time for me. For the first few days, no one stopped by. And then, one fine day as I made my morning coffee, I peeked out to find this red whiskered bulbul, sitting on top of the bowl. It hopped on and off the bowl, looked around, dipped its beak into the water, once and then again and then flew off. The city dweller in me looked on transfixed. I may have put out the bowl of water for the birds but the joy was all mine.

Not just the bulbul, a whole lot of different birds have stopped by, each with their unique birdsong, from the shrill to the musical. And they have a little order and schedule among themselves for when they stop by. And as the days get hotter, I've watched one of the bulbuls fluttering in the water, taking a little bath to cool off while the much bigger crow pheasant simply plonk itself into the water, whilst dislodging much of it. Some have gotten used to us, others, mostly the smaller ones, fly away at the smallest sound from us. And not just the birds, I've even seen the odd squirrel drop by for a drink.

And before you think it, no, I've not become a crazy bird lady but I will admit to a small pleasure in hearing the birds outside while we go about the mundane inside. 

Usually once the rains arrive, they come by in lesser numbers and again pick up when the days get drier and hotter after the Winter. And that's usually my signal that Summer has arrived. And I got that signal last week.

If you know me a little, you know I'd love to launch into a rant about it but I'll leave that for another day because we all know there's a long, hot Summer ahead and I'll have my say one day. Instead, I made a strawberry thyme semifreddo over the weekend. The absolute last of the strawberries are in the market and this Winter, I had success with growing thyme, so this semifreddo recipe from Samantha Seneviratne's book seemed just the thing to ease the misery of Summer that seems to arrive earlier each year. 

The addition of thyme adds a herby touch when you encounter it but in no way does it overwhelm. If you don't want to use thyme, mint would be a excellent substitute. The addition of herbs gives a tiny savoury note to the dessert, a trend that is increasingly popular these days. 

A slice of the semifreddo served with some fresh strawberries is a celebration of the fruit and a beautiful, fresh and not overly sweet way to round off a meal. My suggestion of a drizzle of some pure, raw honey on top of it all is a lovely touch that you might like to try.

As for you, do think of putting out a bowl of water for the birdies this Summer, a terracotta one preferably, as that will keep the water cool. As Ruskin Bond puts it charmingly as only he can, "Don't drive those sparrows out of your veranda; they won't hack into your computer."              


Strawberry Thyme Semifreddo

Recipe courtesy : Samantha Seneviratne 'The New Sugar and Spice'

Serves 8. This recipe is easily halved, in which case one should use a smaller loaf tin and it would serve 3-4 persons. 

  • 4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 sprigs thyme plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (Mint would be a good substitute)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • In a medium saucepan, combine 3 cups of strawberries, 1/4 cup of sugar, 4 sprigs of thyme, the vanilla bean and salt.
  • Cook the mixture over medium heat just until the strawberries begin to soften slightly, about 4 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and let to cool to room temperature.
  • Remove the thyme sprigs and vanilla bean and process the strawberry mixture in a food processor until somewhat smooth. Stir in the chopped thyme. 
  • In a large bowl over a pot of very barely simmering water, whisk together the egg yolks, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Make sure the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water. 
  • Using an electric mixer or with a large whisk, still with the bowl over the simmering water, beat the yolk mixture until pale yellow, thick and double in volume, about 5 minutes. 
  • Remove from the heat and beat the yolk mixture another minute, then fold in the strawberry mixture.
  • Beat the cream to medium stiff peaks. Fold the cream into the strawberry mixture. Pour the strawberry mixture into a loaf pan lines with plastic wrap over the top to cover completely. Freeze until firm, at least 6 hours or preferably, overnight.
  • When ready to serve, toss the remaining one cup of strawberries with the remaining tablespoon of sugar or even honey.
  • Let the semifreddo stand at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. Unwrap and invert the semifreddo onto a serving plate, remove the plastic and top with the strawberries. 
  • Cut the semifreddo into slices and serve. Store leftovers well wrapped in the freezer.

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