MAKES 2 1/2 QUARTS
No zuppa inglese, tiramisÃ¹, torta di ricotta, or rich cannoli will ever take the place of gelato (ice cream) as my favorite dessert. Like so many others, I am truly addicted to this cool and creamy treat that was first introduced into Italy by the Arabs and perfected by the Sicilians. Gelato is made with egg yolks, sugar, cream, and flavorings. Once you master the technique of making gelato, the variations on the theme are endless. This recipe for gelato di mandarini combines the sweet delicate juice of tiny mandarin or clementine oranges, but if these are unavailable, navel oranges will do.
A nice presentation idea is to fill the orange shells with the gelato, freeze them, then cut them into wedges for serving with fresh fruit, biscotti, or cakes. A lemon reamer or juicer yields the most juice and keeps the shells smooth-looking.
11 small mandarin or clementine oranges
2 cups water
4 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
5 extra large egg yolks
Cut 10 of the oranges in half and squeeze the juice to make 1 3/4 cups. With your hands or a small spoon, remove the white pith and membrane from 8 of the orange shells; wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill. Grate the zest of the remaining oranges and set it aside.
In a 3-quart saucepan combine 2 cups water and the sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture is syrupy looking, about 8 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the orange juice, zest, and salt, and set it aside.
Heat the half-and-half in a separate saucepan to just below scalding (175ºF). Set it aside and keep it warm.
Combine the half-and-half, heavy cream, egg yolks, and syrup mixture in a large heatproof bowl. Fill a 4 or 6-quart pot one-third full of water. Place the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the water in the pot does not touch the bottom of the bowl or the egg yolks will curdle during cooking. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens slightly and coats a spoon.
Remove the bowl from the top of the pot, cool slightly, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the mixture overnight to allow it to thicken.
Make the gelato in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's directions. Homemade ice cream will not be as hard as store-bought when ready, but rather the consistency of frozen yogurt.
Fill the orange shells with ice cream, smoothing the top. Wrap each filled shell in plastic wrap and freeze until the ice cream is hard. When ready to serve, unwrap the shells and, with a sharp knife, cut each shell in half and serve as an accompaniment to cookies, cakes, or fruit.
Transfer the extra ice cream to plastic containers and freeze for up to 4 months.
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