Nougat ice cream, inspired by saints and sinfully wicked in taste.
I’ve St Nicholas to thanks for this recipe. Instead of a festa on his actual saint’s day in December, the parish quite sensibly honours him in summer. With statues paraded about, no one, least of all the volunteer brigades of craftsmen and musicians, wants to see a soggy festa. Summer heat it is then for the official partying in the name of Malta’s winter saints like St Nich.
Festa is as much about eating and drinking as celebrating the local patron saint. Upper reaches of the village square see old-fashioned and very ornate nougat stands lined up while lower reaches, out of sight of the historic centre, are given over to fast-food vans with their generators chugging. St Nich, giver of pressies, would no doubt approve of being justaposed with this excess for the sweet-toothed and junk foodies! Don’t most kids’ Santa sacks have sweets in after all?
I’ve been on a bit of a roll in the past month with a series of ice creams. This is positively my last this summer and comes a while after my local festa but in time to honour the biggest, loudest, brashest festa of the year – the feast of St Mary on 15th August; a popular saint that one. As there are a lot of St Mary parishes around, it’s impossible not to hit one either head on as you drive out one night or be within more than earshot of one. Malta has near on 365 churches and chapels! We locals, especially my household one alley back from the church, get festa full on every year.
Nougat being such an iconic part of festa, and a southern Mediterranean confectionery staple, I couldn’t resist taking a slab and whipping up one of the simplest and tastiest ice creams I’ve made – according my family testers and tasters. It might look loaded with sugar but by using quality nougat and not adding any extra sugar to the recipe, it is about the right level of sweetness. You can be a saint while eating it although it looks sinfully wicked an ice.
A nip of one of my favourite amaretti, Disaronno, enhances the flavour and conveniently makes the ice a softer scoop straight from the freezer. I like to add a dash of alcohol to many of my ice creams, especially if dinner party desserts, so they can be served as perfect scoops right on cue. There’s not so much that is overpowers the flavour and makes it unkiddy-friendly but leave it out if you wish.
‘Saints & Sinners’ Nougat & Disaronno Ice Cream
Serves 6-8 portions
1. Cut up nougat into small chunks. Add it to the milk in a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring from time to time until the nougat is dissolved and the milk at steaming, but not boiling point.
2. Strain the milk-nougat mixture into a bowl retaining the almonds aside. Chill the milk for a good 4-6 hours (ideally overnight or all day) before churning the ice cream.
3. Chop some of the almonds if whole, cover and chill them as well.
4. When ready to churn the ice cream, add the cream and 2 or 3 tablespoons of Disaronno (or similar liqueur) to the milk mixture and following your ice cream machine’s instructions, churn until thickening. Five minutes before the ice cream is your desired consistency, add the chopped nuts in batches while the paddle is turning. If you add the nuts at the start, they will sink to the bottom of the ice cream and not be evenly distributed.
5. Using a non-abrasive spatula, scrape the ice cream into a suitable freezer container and freeze. You can serve immediately if you like. The liqueur makes this ice cream easy to scoop from the freezer within a minute or two. Use within 2 weeks.