Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet

It's 7:00 am. A mother stands with her wiggly baby on her hip, looking out a picture window, still sleepy, willing her cup of coffee to kick in. The ever-present fog of a San Francisco summer is rolling down the street. It's been a week since they've seen the sun, and it's beginning to get depressing. Suddenly, a bright ball of light begins to burn through the thick cloud cover above. The mother first squints at the almost-unfamiliar light, then incredulously stares, her eyes as big as her baby's lush, open mouth. The fog burns off before their very eyes, revealing patches of blue that grow together to form an expanse of clear sunny sky. Could it really be? A sunny San Francisco day in the summer? A fire sparks within the weary mother, burning as bright as the sunlight that is now searing through the window. Sweet Georgia Brown! Go, go, go!!

The mother leaps away from the window, quickly drops to her knees and busies her offspring. "Here, baby, take my Blackberry! Your favorite! Ooh, shiny!! Shiny, right?! And look at this pretty TV remote with all the buttons and mommy's jingly keys and all these other things that transfix you that we never let you have. Super fun, right baby?! Okay, you sit here now. Mama's makin' sorbet!!"

It may sound all dramatic, but it's true, people. Though the stretch of cool, dreary days around here certainly made for excellent baking weather, there haven't been many opportunities to enjoy summery frozen desserts in the manner in which nature intended--in full sun, on a deck, with peak-of-season fruit melting across the tongue. You'll notice there's only been two ice creams showcased here this season--tragic! I had to suck the marrow out of that sudden sunny day and get a batch of fresh strawberry sorbet churning first thing. There would surely be a dinner grilled outside later that day, and a sorbet would cap it off fabulously. Luckily, there was a basket of strawberries sitting in the fridge that were just edging past their prime.

I'd had such high hopes for eating those berries for breakfast, but the relentless cloudy weather had been more of the oatmeal variety, and even in their ruby-red glory, I just kept passing over those berries while skimming the refrigerator shelves in the morning. But I am a strong proponent of No Berry Left Behind. So into the blender went that still-promising fruit with a touch of sugar. I added about 1/3 cup of fresh orange juice just to bring the amount of fruit puree to two cups for a full pint of sorbet (and because I love the flavor combination). I'm thinking other fruit nectars, like peach, would also be lovely here.

I had a sorbet recipe bookmarked in my copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook that called for balsamic vinegar, so I glugged some of that into the blending puree. Anyone who's had a syrupy balsamic reduction drizzled over berries will tell you that the intense fruity, winey taste of balsamic and strawberries is a match from the gods. It's not that you actually taste vinegar--you use just a touch--rather you taste the strawberries in a much more profound way. Like strawberries on steroids. Much like my recent pairing of strawberries and Lillet, the vinegar just opens up the whole thing and renders it completely delicious. Coincidentally, I found that sunshine has a similar effect on the flavors of this sorbet--it just tastes that much better on a sunny summer day. Especially if you happen to have been the sun-starved type as of late.

Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Makes 1 pint

Many sorbet recipes, including the one from the Zuni book, call for straining the puree. I skipped that step altogether--I like the body that the berry pulp gives the finished dessert and strawberry seeds are so tiny that you don't even know they're there. Plus you get twice the amount of finished sorbet without straining the puree. If you want a more refined finished product or have a skeevy relationship with seeds, by all means strain away, but double the recipe so you end up with a full pint of sorbet (one pound of berries yields about a cup of strained puree).

1 pound fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh orange juice or other unsweetened, complimentary fruit juice
4-6 tablespoons of sugar, to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon good balsamic vinegar, to taste

Puree the berries in a blender until smooth. Check to see how much puree you have at this point, and add orange juice to bring the amount up to two cups. Blend to combine. Add the sugar, starting with 4 tablespoons, and blend again. Taste the puree, adding more sugar to taste. You want the puree to be almost too sweet--the sweetness will dull considerably when the sorbet is frozen. Finally, add the balsamic vinegar to taste, beginning with 1/2 teaspoon. Stop adding vinegar when the strawberry flavor is noticeably more pronounced, but you can't taste the vinegar outright. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Scrape into an airtight container and freeze until firm.

FrozenShauna Sever