Savory, Bright and Unexpected
- Servings: Makes a little less than 1 quart.
A number of years ago I was on a vacation in France and had a palate-changing series of meals in several restaurants near Lyon. At one lunch I had a slice of fois gras that was served with a small spoonful of savory tomato sorbet. I had expected the fois gras to be the treat. But the acidic tomato taste that had a little cayenne heat confused my mouth with its icy surface and made a profound flavor memory.
I came home and finding no recipe that duplicated what I tasted in Lyon, I experimented with my little ice cream maker. I came up with my own combination of cooked and raw tomatoes, plus some seasonings that are often associated with a Bloody Mary to produce the right combination of bright tomato taste and spice.
I apply the same principles for this savory sorbet as for one that is sweet:
- Make sure the mixture that you are going to freeze has a strong, rich flavor because once it's frozen, the taste will be diminished. So begin with a more forward taste than you'd think it should have. It will have a milder flavor when it's frozen.
- Have the finished mixture be very cold -- chill for at least an hour -- before adding to the ice cream maker. Otherwise as soon as you pour the mixture into the drum, it will lower its overall temperature which may interfere with its ultimate freezing.
- Add a tablespoon or two of alcohol -- in this case, vodka -- to the mixture just before freezing to prevent the sorbet from turning into a block of flavored ice. Because there is no dairy in sorbet, only water, without the lower freezing temperature of alcohol, sorbet can't help but freezing solid and thus being inedible.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely minced onion
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme cut into pieces
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 3/4 pound of vine ripened cherry tomatoes
- 1 12-oz. can of good quality cherry tomatoes (LaValle is a good brand)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon good balsamic vinegar
- 1/8 scant teaspoon cayenne pepper (scant, meaning slightly less; you can always add more heat later)
- 1-2 tablespoons vodka (not flavored, just plain vodka)
- Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or a saucepan over low heat.
- Add the onion, thyme, and minced garlic and sauté until the onion and garlic are soft, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the canned cherry tomatoes with their juice, plus the salt, sugar and cayenne and cook on a medium heat until the mixture becomes a thick paste, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and add the remaining uncooked fresh cherry tomatoes along with the balsamic vinegar.
- Transfer the entire mixture to a blender or the basket of a food processor and purée until the tomatoes are entirely liquefied.
- Pass the mixture through a fine sieve that's been placed over a large bowl or a 4-cup glass measuring cup. This will remove the tomato seeds, bits of tomato skin and anything else that will keep the sorbet from being totally smooth. Discard anything that's in the sieve.
- Cover and place the strained tomato mixture in the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour -- longer if you can -- until the mixture is very cold.
- Remove from the refrigerator, stir to make sure the mixture is combined, and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vodka.
- Taste and adjust for salt. Add a couple of drops of Tabasco if you want a bit more heat but don't overwhelm the tomato flavor.
- Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- When the liquid has been turned into sorbet -- which can take about 20 minutes -- transfer to an airtight plastic container and place in your freezer until it's ready to serve.
How to Serve Tomato Sorbet
Although I first tasted tomato sorbet with a piece of fois gras, I prefer it with lighter partners. My favorite way to serve tomato sorbet is a scoop alongside a generous portion of fresh crab or lobster salad that's been tossed with a small amount of home made lemon chive mayonnaise (just add a little lemon juice or lemon zest and a little minced fresh chive to a favorite mayonnaise recipe). Place the salad on top of a slice of brioche that's been lightly toasted and put the spoonful of sorbet next to the bread on the plate.
Other ways to serve tomato sorbet include:
- A spoonful in a Bloody Mary which will add both chill and taste.
- A scoop alongside cold, cooked shrimp in a variation of a shrimp cocktail.
- A small spoonful alongside slices of fresh-from-the-garden beefsteak tomatoes on which you've crumbled some blue cheese or goat cheese.
- A spoonful as a garnish in a bowl of gazpacho.
Tip: If you can't find good quality canned tomatoes, you can also use 12 oz. (about 2 1/2 cups) of San Marzano tomatoes that you've cut into small pieces, or the flesh of best quality summer tomatoes, with the core and any thick skin removed. The goal is to begin the recipe with tomatoes that have a rich, bright flavor so that when they cook down, the mixture produces an intense, concentrated tomato flavor to be the base of the sorbet.